I’m sure you’ve heard it all: bunny, rabbit, bunny rabbit. You’ve surely used both the words “bunny” and “rabbit” on many occasions, especially if you’ve taken one on as a household pet.
But, have you ever stuttered between the two words? Have you been second-guessing yourself, thinking which term is correct? Exactly what is the difference between rabbits and bunnies?
It’s good to question language and how it is used to have the ability to express yourself correctly. While sometimes colloquial uses of words take over the actual meaning of words, there’s always a technical, by-the-book answer.
We’re going to look at how these words are (and should be) used so that you can feel confident when chatting to friends or family about your new pet rabbit. Oh wait, is it a bunny?
What’s a rabbit?
Before getting into the difference between the two words, “bunny” and “rabbit,” let’s first define the word “rabbit.”
A rabbit is a small mammal that is part of the Leporidae family. They’re known for their big ears and little tails. These characteristically large ears are essential to their survival in their natural environment. The size of their ears is said to help them detect predators, and with so many predators to look out for, their ears are an invaluable part of their attributes.
As ground dwellers, rabbits can be found in many different environments: forests, deserts, wetlands, and more. Rabbits live all over the world, but the majority of the rabbit population today can be found in North America.
Rabbits make wonderful household pets as they are naturally curious, playful, and social. They’re able to form deep bonds with their owners. Oh yeah, and they’re pretty cute, too.
What is the difference between rabbits and bunnies?
Now that we know a bit more about rabbits, what exactly is a bunny?
So, what is the difference between rabbits and bunnies? There isn’t much of a difference. The words are used to describe the same animal. However, in general, a bunny refers to a small rabbit or a young rabbit.
It also has to do with perception: when you think of a bunny, you think of a cute, fluffy, and more playful rabbit. That’s why we have the Easter Bunny; it’s because of the perception we have that the word “bunny” sounds better than “rabbit” in this case.
For the most part, in everyday language, the two words can be used interchangeably. Although it’s unlikely you’ll tell a child about the Easter Rabbit, you probably shouldn’t get into a conversation with a scientist about bunnies.
Context is important when using the words, however, they’re used to describe the same animal.
So, the question becomes, when should you use the word bunny and when should you use the word rabbit?
Why do both words exist?
So why is the English language complicating things with these two words? Well, because that’s the fun of language. There are many words in existence with the same meaning. However, the myriad of word choices enhances the way we speak, write, and express ourselves.
The more options we have with language, the better we can say exactly what we mean.
So, what exactly are the intricacies of when to use each word? Will the use of the word “bunny” convey the right vibe? Or do you want to use the word “rabbit”?
Let’s look at how each word is most commonly used.
When can I use the word “rabbit”?
What came first? Was it the egg or the chicken? See where I’m going with this?
In this case, the rabbit most definitely came first.
Use the word “rabbit” when talking about this big-eared, little animal. No one will give you an odd look when using this word, unless, of course, you mean to say “hare”. But, don’t worry, we’ll get into that later.
“Rabbit” is the more technical term for the animal but is also used to lovingly talk about this animal or maybe even a pet.
When can I use the word “bunny”?
You can only use “bunny” when you’re referring to Bugs Bunny, and that’s it. On a serious note and away from the dad jokes, you can use “bunny” when referring to any rabbit, but in a casual setting/context.
You likely won’t want to go into some sort of academic environment and talk all about bunnies.
Many say that “bunny” is the word used to refer to baby rabbits or small rabbits. While “bunny” is not technically the name for baby rabbits (it’s kits or kittens), it is often used that way. If you’re talking about a small rabbit or a young rabbit, then “bunny” is the best choice of word.
“Bunny” is more of a term of endearment when referring to rabbits. You might call your pet rabbit your pet bunny. It conveys more affection because when you use the word bunny, your mind immediately goes to a cute, fluffy, loving little creature.
Rabbit vs hare
While on the topic of correct word usage, rabbit and hare are two technical terms that can be used incorrectly.
The words “rabbit” and “hare” shouldn’t be used interchangeably because—unlike bunnies and rabbits—these are two different animals.
Hares and rabbits are part of the Leporidae family. While they too have big ears and strong hind legs (great for jumping), hares are larger than rabbits.
The environment in which they live differs. While rabbits burrow and live underground, hares make their nests in the grass.
Another big difference between hares and rabbits is how they are born. Baby rabbits are born without fur and with their eyes closed. They’re effortless prey for the lurking predator. Therefore, baby rabbits require ample attention and care from their mothers in their first weeks of life.
Hares are born with fur and their eyes open. They are independent from the day they’re born.
Another big difference between hares and rabbits is that hares should only live in the wild. While rabbits are perfectly acceptable to have as pets or live free in the wild, hares should not be domesticated. They aren’t as social as rabbits and would not adapt well.
So, the words “rabbit” and “hare” are used to describe two different species of animal and are therefore not interchangeable in their usage.
The origins of the words “bunny” and “rabbit”
We’ve gotten into when and how to use these words, but where exactly did they originate?
The word “rabbit” actually has French origins, coming from the word “conil.” Conil was shortened from the Latin version: cuniculus.
So, how did we get from cuniculus to rabbit? Well, it took quite a bit of time.
Rabbits were called coneys until the 18th century. The word “rabbit” was used to refer to a baby coney.
Eventually, the word took over, and the rabbit has become the official name for the small mammal.
Bunny, we now know, is the endearing pet term for the word rabbit. But, where exactly did it come from?
While the origins aren’t super clear, the word is thought to have come from the Scottish word “bun.” The word had a variety of meanings, one of which was “tail of hare.”
So, we could assume that the word “bunny” is the endearing version of “bun.”
“Bun” was also used to refer to an attractive girl. It then started to be used to refer to young or small animals. Somewhere along the way, that word shifted to a more charming version: bunny.
The word “hare” is the oldest in the bunch.
It has Germanic roots, originally coming from the word “hare.” “Hare” is an Old English word meaning “gray”.
What about the Easter Bunny?
Getting slightly off-topic but keeping it in the bunny, hare, and rabbit territory, let’s dive into the origins of the Easter Bunny, specifically, how the name came to be.
The Easter Bunny is a popular tradition in the US. The Easter Bunny is beloved by many young, treat-craving children who search for the sweets (often chocolate eggs) that the Easter Bunny leaves for them on Easter Sunday.
Originally, the Easter Bunny was the Easter Hare. The hare, throughout history, has had quite an interesting role in religion and tradition.
The hare is thought to be a symbol of rebirth and was considered sacred for some time.
Hares were given ritual burials and weren’t eaten because of their supposed religious significance. Taking it all the way back to ancient Greek mythology, hares were sacred to Aphrodite.
Hares were shown as symbols in artwork throughout the ages. There are pieces with the Virgin Mary where she is holding a white hare, a symbol of overcoming sexual temptation.
Having the hare as the symbol for Easter makes a lot of sense when you learn more about the hare’s religious significance.
But, as we know, “bunny” just sounds cuter. Someone thought to change the word from “hare” to “bunny.”
Rabbit or bunny?
Learning about the origins of some of the words we commonly use can answer a lot of our questions about how to use them.
When it comes to using the terms “rabbit” and “bunny,” feel free to use them both. Don’t stress too much about how you’re using them as they both refer to the same animal. While a bunny is a small rabbit, many rabbit owners will use the term to affectionately refer to their pet.
But, if you want to get it right, just remember that a rabbit is a technical term for the animal, and “bunny” is the endearing term used to refer to that animal or used when referring to a small rabbit or a young rabbit.
So, get out there and go wild talking about your pet bunny rabbit!