Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins
CONEY ISLAND; CONEY: The Coney in Coney Island should really be pronounced to rhyme with honey or money. The word derives from cony (or coney or cuny) [[not an acronym for the City University of New York (<)]]). meaning adult, long-earred rabbit (Lepus cunicula) after which the Brooklyn, New York community was named. However, cony, pronounced cunny became a term for the female genitals in British slang, and proper Victorians stopped using the word, substituting rabbit, which previously had meant only the young of the cony species. The only trouble remaining was that cony appeared throughout the King James Bible, which had to be read aloud during church services. Proper Victorians solved this problem by changing the pronunciation of cony to coney (rhymes with boney), which it remains to this day in Coney Island as well as the Bible.
Oxford English Dictionary
CONY, CONEY noun: 1a) A rabbit: formerly the proper and ordinary name, but now superseded in general use by rabbit, which was originally a name for the young only. b) Still retained in the Statutes, and in more or less familiar use with gamekeepers, poachers, game-dealers and cooks: in market reports, now usually meaning a wild rabbit. c) It is also the name in Heraldry. d) dialect. In some districts applied to a young rabbit, but elsewhere properly to an old one. e) The flesh of the rabbit. f) The skin or fur of the rabbit. g) A hat made of rabbit-fur (in place of beaver). U.S. [[Middle English ‘cony,’ ‘conig,’ ‘coning,’ back-formation from conies, plural, from Old French ‘connis,’ ‘conis,’ plural of ‘connil,’ ‘conil,’ from Latin ‘cuniculus,’ rabbit, underground passage, probably of Iberian origin. [[note: if you’re thinking ‘cunnilingus,’ the rabbit bears no apparent relationship to the ‘cunnus,’ vulva, of that word.]]
. . . . but during the 19th century the pronunciation with long ‘O’ has gradually crept in. This pronunciation is largely due to the obsolescence of the word in general use, while it occurred in the Bible, and especially in the Psalms, as the name of a foreign animal [[In Old testament used to translate Hebrew shaphan, a small pachyderm (Hyrax Syriacus), living in caves and clefts of the rocks in Palestine]]; the oral tradition being broken, readers guessed at the word from the spelling. It is possible, however, that the desire to avoid certain vulgar associations with the word in the cunny form, may have contributed to the preference for a different pronunciation in reading the Scriptures. Walker knew only the cunny pronunciation; Smart (1836) says ‘it is familiarly pronounced cunny’, but cony is ‘proper for solemn reading’. The obsolescence of the word is also a cause of the unfixed spelling; the Bible of 1611 has conie, cony, conies, modern editions coney, conies (cf. money, monies), an irregularity retained in the Revision of 1885. The rabbit is evidently of late introduction into Britain and Northern Europe: it has no native name in Celtic or Teutonic, and there is no mention of it in England before the Norman period; in the quotations the fur, perhaps imported, appears before the animal. The Welsh cwning, cwningen, is from Middle English; the Irish coinnín, and Gaelic coinean, coinein from Middle English. or Anglo-French.
Ken G – June 1, 2006<1598 “A signe of three CONIES hanging ouer a Poulters stall.”—‘A Survay of London’ (1603) by Stow, xxx. pate 265)
<1591 “Now for your ransome my cloyster-bred CONNEY.”—‘The Troubled Raigne of King John’ (1611), page 52> [[‘indecent’ usage]]
<1622 “A pox on your Christian cockatrices! They cry, like poulterers' wives, ‘No money, no CONEY.’”—‘The Virgin Martir’ by Massinger, II. i> [[‘indecent' usage]]
<1785 “No person shall turn out or stock with CONIES or rabbits any part of the lands.”—‘South Cave Inclosure Act,’ page 33>
<1855 “If a ‘pedler’ wanted to trade with us for a box of beaver hats, . . . he was sure to obtain a box of ‘CONEYS.’”—‘Life’ (written by himslef’) by Phineas Taylor Barnum> [[a hat made of rabbit fur]]
<1867 “On Monday, at Southport . . . two young men . . . were charged with trespassing in search of CONEYS.”—‘Wigan Observer,’ 23 February>