Happy Lunar New Year! It’s the Year of the Rabbit, so I’m digging deep into the archives to bring you a bunny-related* word I originally wrote about 15 years ago.
Watership Down, by Richard Adams (1972)
Crixa was an invention of the English author Richard Adams (1920–2016) for his 1972 novel Watership Down. It was one word in a whole conlang (constructed language) vocabulary Adams called Lapine, from the French word for rabbit, lapin. A crixa is the crossing of two bridle paths and the center of a rabbit colony called Efrafa that’s ruled by the dictator Woundwort.
I discovered crixa—or rediscovered it, since I’d forgotten that I’d encountered it in the book—in the name of a wonderful bakery, Crixa Cakes, in Berkeley, California. (I’m happy to report that Crixa Cakes is still in business and celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.) In the 1980s, students at the Ohio State University referred to their dormitories as “crixa.” Fall of Efrafa was a British punk band that formed in Brighton in 2005 and disbanded in 2009; all of their album titles—Owsla, Elil, Inlé—were taken from Watership Down. Owsla—from the Lapine word for a group of police rabbits—is also the name of an American record label founded in 2011 by Skrillex, Tim Smith, Kathryn Fraser, and Clayton Blaha.
There’s a helpful Wikipedia article about Lapine:
The words of the Lapine language were developed by Adams piecemeal and organically as required by the circumstances of the plot. In a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” interview, Adams noted that “I just constructed Lapine as I went - when the rabbits needed a word for something so did I.” Reflecting on his inspirations for the words, Adams stated that “some of them are onomatopoeic like hrududu (motor vehicle), but overall they simply came from my subconscious”. Adams commented that the motivation for the sound of Lapine was that it should sound “wuffy, fluffy” as in the word “Efrafa.”
And here’s a lovely tribute to Lapine by Philip Oltermann, published in the Guardian in 2015. Oltermann’s first language was German; Watership Down was “the first English book I read of my own accord”:
The logic of Lapine is not human-down, but rabbit-up. Because a rabbit’s paw has only four claws, for example, they cannot count to five. Any number above four is Hrair, meaning “a lot” or “a thousand”. Concepts of time are defined by the celestial bodies: fu Inlé means “after moonrise”. Any machine, whether car or tractor, is a hrududu. …
[T]he clever thing about Watership Down is that it it doesn’t just invent its own language, it also teaches the reader how language works. At first Lapine feels awkward. Yet by the end of the book the training wheels have slipped off, and you haven’t even noticed.
* Have you ever wondered how we got bunny from rabbit? The answer: We didn’t. The OED says the rabbit “apparently” comes from French rabbette, while bunny (“a pet name for a rabbit”—or a squirrel) is a diminutive of bun, a “dialect” word; the “rabbit” sense of bunny was first recorded in 1699. Which dialect? The OED doesn’t say, but the Online Etymology Dictionary suggests Scottish. Easter bunny was first documented in 1904, dust bunny (an aggregate of dust) in 1952, and bunny slope (an easy ski run) was first recorded in 1954.