Cavort: to prance; to frisk; to caper about


Since the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) is not sure where the word “cavort” comes from, it throws up its mighty dictionary hands and declares that the etymology is uncertain.


Other sources are not so sure of that uncertainty. The Slang Dictionary suggests that it comes from cavolta, Lingua Franca for “prancing on horseback.” (If your poem about John Travolta has been languishing in a drawer somewhere for lack of a proper rhyme, let it languish no more. According to me, cavolta rhymes perfectly with Travolta, who is best known for prancing on dance floors.)


Other than its rhyming potential, why should we give any credence to the suggestion by The Slang Dictionary? Aren’t slang words, words without a high school education? And does this have anything to do with rabbits?


Those are all good questions. Let’s start with the first. The original publication of The Slang Dictionary appeared in 1891 and was aptly named Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present: A Dictionary, Historical and Comparative, of the Heterodox Speech of all Classes of Society for More than Three Hundred Years. With Synonyms in English, French, German, Italian, etc. Any book with a title like that deserves our trust, so I’m happy to give it all of my credence, if necessary. (Seven volumes were published, and Volume II is free to read at Google Play. You can learn what “can’t see a hole in a ladder”1 and  “to have no milk in the cocoa-nut”2 mean.) Its entry for “cavort” also offers other proposed etymologies, including curvet, French for a certain style of horse leaping, and the Spanish word cavar, which refers to the pawing of a horse. The OED reluctantly admits that “cavort” could be a corruption of curvet, but stresses that John Russell Bartlett, an American, said it, and you know how the Americans are and what they’ve done to the King’s English. Then, the OED curtly dismisses the idea that “cavort” is related to the Spanish by saying it “has nothing to recommend it. So there.” Those last two words aren’t really in the entry, but they are implied.


The second question about slang is complicated and deserves more discussion. For now, let’s just say that I think of slang as street poetry. The best and brightest slang words end up making an honest living in the mouths of most Americans, and many go on to make it big, appearing in poems, novels, and the mouths of politicians, educators, and commentators.


The answer to that last question is so important and of such a personal nature that it deserves quotes. “Yes, this has everything to do with rabbits.” And let me say thank you for asking, because I could have spent the entire day talking about words, when all I really wanted to do today was post a video of some of my yard bunnies cavorting outside my window.


You’ll have to wait a few seconds for the high jumps. Enjoy.



1highly intoxicated

2to be insane


(Note to reader: Any connection to any definitions on this blog to anyone who writes on this blog is tenuous, possibly serendipitous, and highly irregular.)

35 thoughts on “Cavort

    • Cavorting is part of their mating ritual, and its the buck (male) that does that high leaping. Apparently the does find this impressive. For the females, especially when they are hares instead of rabbits, it leads to quite a lot of hare-raising experiences.

  1. I too am an etymology nerd. Sometimes I make up my own though. Before I read this, I had decided cavort was an apt description of mischievous play. Sounds convincing right?

    • Your definition is very close. I didn’t have time to go into all the connections and related words, but all of the suggested etymologies had something to do with horses. We also say “horsing around” and that suggests both playfulness and mating rituals. 🙂

  2. As is usually the case, you’ve managed to take a person who has generally been sulking and skulking about, (obviously due to no milk in my coconut), and get them to begrudingly turn up the ends of their snarling and pouty lips into something almost resembling a smile.

    I suppose it comes as no surprise, that when first observing the beginning of the of the bunnies cavorting video, it reminded me somewhat of a Mexican hat dance. You know, where Bunny A points a pistol at the feet of Bunny B, thereby demanding that they commence to dancing.

    All that flailing about is surely a precursor to Bunnies C, D, E, F, G, H, and I entering the picture. Henceforth, even more cavorting, thereby exponentially increasing the bunny population, and thereby multiplying the circumstance of even more bunny dancing. I can see them now, in their tiny sombreros, and waving their tiny guns. Although I must admit I’m still a bit flummoxed as to where they manage to find all those little tiny guns and sombreros.

    It is that sort of deep pondering that has kept me silent this past week. Leave it to you, and your willingness to share the dance of the bunnies, to shake open my cobwebs. Perhaps there are still one or two drops of milk left in the coconut after all.

    • I LOVE your image of the bunnies doing the Mexican hat dance!!

      I am hoping that one of the results of all this mating is that one of my yard bunnies will grow up to be the next Easter Bunny – Peter Cottontail hopping down the bunny trail. Now I’ll be looking for Pedro instead.

      If this brought you even a tiny bit of happiness, I am thrilled.

      • you are a generous soul for sharing this video … it is impossible to watch cavorting bunnies and not get happy about getting to witness their dancing … incredible that they performed for you so close to the window, and amazing that you were able to capture it on video … good work, you!

  3. the Urbane Cowgirl

    I truly applaud you for your steadiness, and being able to film this hand-held. I’d have been giggling so hard I would have dropped the camera! Thanks for sharing.

  4. I am soooo not touching that link. No no no. I need to go to bed soon. However, ‘cavorting’ sounds like a word Shakespeare might have made up. Bunnies made me giggle, thanks – even though it looked very serious to them, I kept thinking about how cats do that vertical leap for funsies 🙂

    • I know what you mean about links. Most of them are time warps.

      It’s funny that you mentioned Shakespeare because I had a paragraph about him and a related word, but the post was getting too long. I may have to do a follow-up.

      I forgot about cat jumping. That is always fun to watch, too.

  5. Your video reminds me of a yard bunny we had one year when we also had three pygmy goats. The bunny liked to eat the goats grain, but the nanny goat did not take kindly to it. One day I saw her lift the bunny with her horns and toss it several feet away. Repeatedly, I saw the nanny goat do this–until one fine day, the rabbit decided it had had enough. It began to nip at her heels and before the end of the summer, the nanny goat would run in terror at the mere sight of the bunny. There were days the rabbit held the nanny goat hostage atop her house for hours.

    • What a hoot. That is a great story. I would have loved to see that bunny nipping at that goat’s heels. Who would have every imagined such a thing. Thanks for sharing that.

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