coney c.1200, from Anglo-Fr. conis, pl. of conil "long-eared rabbit" (Lepus cunicula) from L. cuniculus (Cf. Sp. conejo, Port. coelho, It. coneglio), the small, Spanish variant of the Italian hare (L. lepus), the word perhaps from Iberian Celtic (classical writers say it is Spanish). RABBIT (Cf. Rabbit) arose 14c. to mean the young of the species, but gradually pushed out the older word 19c., after British slang picked up coney as a punning synonym for cunny "cunt" (Cf. connyfogle "to deceive in order to win a woman's sexual favors"). The word was in the King James Bible [Prov. xxx:26, etc.], however, so it couldn't be entirely dropped, and the solution was to change the pronunciation of the original short vowel (rhyming with honey, money) to rhyme with boney. In the O.T., the word translates Heb. shaphan "rock-badger." Rabbits not being native to northern Europe, there was no Germanic or Celtic word for them.

Etymology dictionary. 2014.

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