c. 1200, from Anglo-French conis, plural of conil "long-eared rabbit" (Lepus cunicula) from Latin cuniculus (source of Spanish conejo, Portuguese coelho, Italian coniglio), the small, Spanish variant of the Italian hare (Latin lepus), the word perhaps from Iberian Celtic (classical writers say it is Spanish).
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" (compare connyfogle "to deceive in order to win a woman's sexual favors"). The word was in the King James Bible (Proverbs 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 Old Testament, the word translates Hebrew shaphan "rock-badger." Rabbits not being native to northern Europe, there was no Germanic or Celtic word for them.
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