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Bunny rabbit

Q From Paul Savarese: My wife was wondering about the origin of bunny. She can’t find the answer in the dictionary.

A Alas, it’s not there largely because we don’t know. Bun was an English dialect word, recorded from the sixteenth century, which was used for a squirrel or rabbit. It seems that the word turned into the endearment bunny in the following century, and only later was it transferred back to the rabbit. There is a suggestion that the word may have originally referred to the small tail of the rabbit, in the same way that a tight coil of hair at the back of the neck was also called a bun, because both were roughly the shape and size of the cake. Others argue that the origin was the Gaelic word bun that meant a stump or root, and which could refer to the tail of a hare. But neither origin explains why it was applied to a squirrel, whose tail looks rather different. But then, we don’t know for sure where the word bun in the sense of the cake comes from either, so it’s all quite obscure.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 13 Mar. 1999

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-bun1.htm
Last modified: 13 March 1999.