also racoon, "small plantigrade carnivorous quadruped," common in the warmer parts of North America, c. 1600, arocoun, from Algonquian (Powhatan) arahkun, from arahkunem "he scratches with the hands." Early forms included Capt. John Smith's raugroughcum. In Norwegian, vaskebjørn, literally "wash-bear," from its habit of dipping its food in water before eating it.
popular abbreviation of raccoon, 1742, American English. It was the nickname of Whig Party members in U.S. c. 1848-60, as the raccoon was the party's symbol, and it also had associations with frontiersmen (who stereotypically wore raccoon-skin caps), which probably ultimately was the source of the Whig Party sense (the party's 1840 campaign was built on a false image of wealthy William Henry Harrison as a rustic frontiersman).
The now-insulting U.S. meaning "black person" was in use by 1837, said to be from barracoon (by 1837), from Portuguese barraca "slave depot, pen or rough enclosure for black slaves in transit in West Africa, Brazil, Cuba." If so, no doubt this was boosted by the enormously popular blackface minstrel act Zip Coon (George Washington Dixon) which debuted in New York City in 1834. But it is perhaps older (one of the lead characters in the 1767 colonial comic opera "The Disappointment" is a black man named Raccoon).
Also, in Western U.S., "a person" generally, especially a sly, knowing person (1832). Coon's age is 1843, American English, probably an alteration of British a crow's age. (Crows are famously long-lived. Compare Greek tri-koronos "long-lived," literally "having three times the age of a crow." But raccoons are not.) Gone coon (1839) was used of a person who is in a very bad way or a hopeless condition.
long-tailed Brazilian raccoon, 1670s, from Spanish quachi, quasje, from a name in the Tupi native language of Brazil; according to OED it is a compound of cua "belt, cincture" + tim "nose."
1835, in reference to a carnivorous raccoon-like mammal (the lesser panda) of the Himalayas, from French, apparently from the Nepalese name of the animal. The first reference in English to the Giant Panda is from 1901; since its discovery in 1869 by French missionary Armand David (1826-1900) it had been known as parti-colored bear, but the name was changed after the zoological relationship to the red panda was established.