[app. of Northern French origin: cf. Walloon "robett" (Remacle). The primitive seems to occur in Flemish "robbe" (Killian, De Bo; the latter also gives "ribbe", "rubbe"), dim. "robbeke"; the ultimate etymology is unknown. If French "rabouillere" (the burrow made by the female rabbit to kindle in) is connected, the Middle English "rabet" may be more primitive in form than the Walloon and Flemish words]
1. n., A common burrowing rodent of the hare-family (Leporidae), esp. the common European species, Lepus Cuniculus, which is naturally of a brownish-grey colour, but in domestication also white, black, or pied. Orig. applied only to the young animal, the full-grown one being called a “cony”.
1398 Trevisa “Barth. De P.R. xvii”, Conynges bringeth forth many rabettes & multplieth full swith.
c.1440 “Anc. Cookery in Househ. Ord.”, Then take conynges parboyled, or elles rabets, for thai are better for a lorde.
1502 “Privy Purse Exp. Eliz. York”, A present of Rabettes and quales.
1576 Turberv. “Bk. Venerie lxiii”, The Conie beareth her Rabettes xxx dayes, and then kindeleth.
1607 Topsell “Four Foot-f. Beasts”, If two males be put to one female, they fight fiercely; but they will not hurt the rabbets.
1653 Walton “Angler viii”, Take the flesh of a Rabet or Cat cut smal.
1768 Pennant “Brit. Zool.”, Rabbets will breed seven times a year.
1846 J. Baxter “Libr. Pract. Agric. (ed. 4)”, The rabbit lives to the age of eight or nine years.
1885 E. Clark “Nature XXXI”, Large tracts are still honeycombed by the ubiquitous biscacha, a gigantic rabbit.
a.) Applied contemptuously to a person.
b.) A shadow resembling the form of a rabbit, cast by the hands upon a wall.
c.) (See quote 1878 below)
d.) (See quote 1882 below)
See also “welsh rabbit”
1597 Shakespeare “2 Henry IV – II, ii”, “Away, you horson upright Rabbet, away.
1849 “Plymouth Her., 21 April”, Shadows…strong enough for children to make rabbits with their fingers upon a wall.
1878 Besant & Rice “By Celia’s Arbour xxx”, Even if you did happen to have a “rabbit”, that is one of the coats lined with white fur.
1882 “Standard, 4 Sept.”, Though somewhat of a “rabbit”, as a horse that runs “in and out” is sometimes called.
3.) Obs. Also “rabit” [of obscure origin] A wooden drinking vessel.
1685 Merton “Praise Yorksh. Ale”, Stronge Beer in Rabits and cheating penny Cans
1700 B.E. “Dict. Cant. Crew”, Rabbits–Wooden Kanns to Drink out of, once used on the Roads, now almost laid by.
4.) v., intr. To hunt for or catch rabbits. Chiefly in pres. participle.
1852 “Meanderings of Mem. I”, Beer never bound him rabbiting again.
1861 G.W. Kitchin “Hist. France”, This man caught three Flemish students rabbiting in his warren.
5.) v., intr. To crowd together like rabbits.
1892 “Sunday Mag., Sept. 602″, The common people…rabbit together in miserable warrens.
6.) v. Vulgar. [Prob a fanciful alteration of "rat" in "od rat", "drat".] A meaningless word used as an imprecation = “drat”, etc. Also “drabbit”, “od(d) drabbit”.
1742 Fielding “J. Andrews”, “Rabbit the fellow” cries he.
1768 Goldsmith “Good-n. Man”, Rabbit me, but little Flanigan will look well in anything.
1787 Grose “Provinc. Gloss.”, Drabbit it–a vulgar exclamation or abbreviation of God rabbit it, a foolish evasion of an oath.
1831 Roby “Trad. Lancash.”, Rabbit thee, Will, but the luggage will break thy back!
1880 Mrs. Parr “Adam & Eve”, Drabbit the maid!
1889 Doyle “Micah Clarke”, Rabbit me! but you are to be envied.
–per “The Compact Edition of The Oxford English Dictionary”, Oxford University Press 1971