From the second edition (1989):
bear, n.1
(bɛə(r)) Forms: 1 bera, 2–7 bere, (3 beore, ? bore, 4 beeyr, 4–5 beere, 5 barre, beer, 6 Sc. beir, 6–7 beare, 7 bare), 7– bear. [OE. bera = OHG. bero, pero, MHG. ber, mod.G. bär, MDu. bere, Du. beer:—OTeut. *beron-. The ON. björn:—*bern-oz seems to be an extended form. Supposed by Fick to be cogn. with L. ferus wild, as if ‘the wild beast’ of northern nations.]


I. 1. a. A heavily-built, thick-furred plantigrade quadruped, of the genus Ursus; belonging to the Carnivora, but having teeth partly adapted to a vegetable diet.
The best-known species are the Brown Bear of Europe (U. arctos), the White or Polar Bear (U. maritimus), the Grizzly Bear (U. horribilis or ferox) and Black Bear (U. Americanus) of North America, and the Syrian Bear (U. Syriacus), mentioned in the Bible; there are remains of fossil species, some larger than any now known.

c1000 Ælfric On O.T. in Sweet Reader 66 Dauid‥ewylde ðone wíldan beran. c1200 Trin. Coll. Hom. 211 Ech man is efned to þe deore þe he nimeð after geres‥sum bere, sum leun. 1398 Trevisa Barth. De P.R. xviii. liii. (1495) 813 Whan beeyrs ben syke they seke amptes and deuoure them. Ibid. cxii. 854 The beer can wonderly stye vpon trees. c1420 Anturs of Arth. x, Thus were the grehondes a-gast of the gryme bere. 1501 Douglas Pal. Hon. iii. xxvii, Dauid I saw slay baith lyoun and beir. 1596 Shakes. Merch. V. ii. i. 29, I would‥Plucke the yong sucking Cubs from the she Beare. 1624 Capt. Smith Virginia ii. 24 Their attire is the skinnes of Beares. 1733 Pope Horace' Sat. ii. i. 87 Tis a Bear's talent not to kick but hug. 1781 Pennant Hist. Quadrup. II. ii. §ii. xx. 286 The black bears of America form a very distinct variety. 1860 Gosse Rom. Nat. Hist. 62 The white bear seated on a solitary iceberg in the Polar Sea. c1880 Cassell's Nat. Hist. II. 167 The American Black Bear. Ursus americanus.


b. in proverbial phrases, referring to the habits of bears, and to the obsolete sport of bear-baiting.
are you there with your bears? = ‘Are you there again, or at it again?’ is explained by Joe Miller as the exclamation of a man who, not liking a sermon he had heard on Elisha and the bears, went next Sunday to another church, only to find the same preacher and the same discourse. like a bear with a sore head and similar phrases: used with reference to bad-tempered behaviour.

1562 J. Heywood Prov. & Epigr. (1867) 17 With as good will as a beare goth to the stake. Ibid. 54 As handsomly as a beare picketh muscles. 1589 Pappe w. Hatchet (1844) 16 Swarmd‥like beares to a honie pot. 1601 Dent Pathw. Heauen 62 To put his finger into the Lions mouth, and‥take the Beare by the tooth. 1602 W. Fulbecke 1st Pt. Parall. 28 A man should deuide honie with a Beare. 1736 Bailey s.v., You dare as well take a Bear by the Tooth, That is, You dare not attempt it. 1742 Richardson Pamela III. 335 O ho, Nephew! are you thereabouts with your Bears? 1785 Grose Dict. Vulgar T. s.v. Grumble, He grumbled like a bear with a sore ear. 1820 Scott Abbot xv, ‘Marry come up—are you there with your Bears?’ muttered the Dragon. 1830 Marryat King's Own xxvi, As savage as a bear with a sore head. 1831 Gen. Thompson Exerc. (1842) I. 485 Not fit to carry garbage to a bear. 1858 Sat. Rev. 7 Aug. 139 You must not sell the skin till you have shot the bear [cf. II]. 1922 S. Weyman Ovington's Bank v. 49 He's like a bear with a sore head.


c. fig. Also spec., Russia.

c1230 Ancr. R. 202 Þe Bore [? bere, beore] of heui Slouhðe haueð þeos hweolpes. c1400 Apol. Loll. 58 Þe bere of glotonie romis a bout‥for to fille þe wombe. 1591 Spenser Ruines Time 66 What nowe is of th' Assyrian Lyonesse?‥ What of the Persian Beares outragiousnesse? [1794 W. B. Stevens Jrnl. 15 Dec. (1965) ii. 214 Those Russian Bears after having devoured the Unhappy Poles are‥to direct their fell tusks against France.] 1804 M. Wilmot Let. 24 July in Londonderry & Hyde Russ. Jrnls. (1934) i. 147 Take the two Nations‥and trust me the Bears would triumph. 1831 T. Campbell Wks. (1907) 220 France turns from her abandoned friends afresh, And soothes the Bear that prowls for patriot flesh. 1853 Punch XXIV. 222 We recommend the Bear to hug himself as comfortably as he likes, in his own security, but we would advise him to keep his paws off from Turkey. 1939 W. S. Churchill Into Battle (1941) 145 The left paw of the Bear bars Germany from the Black Sea. 1967 Observer 15 Jan. 32/8 When he allowed himself to be flown back to Moscow‥he was consciously putting his head in the Bear's mouth.


d. A child's toy, esp. Teddy bear.

1907 [see Teddy]. 1928 A. A. Milne House at Pooh Corner x. 178 In that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.


e. slang (orig. and chiefly U.S.). A policeman; ellipt. for Smokey Bear 2. Freq. attrib. or in phr.: see also feed the bears s.v. feed v. 4b.

1975 Atlantic Monthly May 42/1 There's a four-wheeler coming up fast behind me, might be a Bear wants to give us some green stamps. 1975 S9 Oct. 32/2 Bear's Den, any police station. 1975 Washington Post 16 Nov. (Parade Suppl.) 18/4 All those CB ‘bear reports’ were actually helping hold speeds down. 1976 Daily News (N.Y.) (CB & Sound Suppl.) 11 June 2/1 Bear Cave, police station. 1976 CB Mag. June 40/3 ‘The bear's pulling somebody off there at 74,’ reported someone else. 1977 Daily Province (Victoria, B.C.) 29 Sept. 7/1 The Bear in the Air will be staying up there.


2. fig. A rough, unmannerly, or uncouth person. to play the bear: to behave rudely and roughly; const. with (colloq.): to play the deuce with, inflict great damage upon (?obs.). Also in obs. colloquial sense: see quot. 1832.

1579 Tomson Calvin's Serm. Tim. 473/1 When we haue so turned all order vpsidowne‥there is nothing but‥playing the beare amongst vs. 1751 Chesterfield Lett. III. cclxii. 202 The French people of learning‥are not bears as most of ours are. 1832 Legends Lond. II. 247 When I was the youthful Bear—as the disciple of a Private Tutor is called at Oxford. 1854 A. E. Baker Gloss. Northampt. Words I. 38 A market-gardener says, ‘A wet Saturday plays the bear with us’; i.e. keeps our customers away, and injures our goods. 1855 Macaulay Hist. Eng. III. 51 This great soldier‥was no better than a Low Dutch bear. 1888 ‘R. Boldrewood’ Robb. under Arms II. ii. 26 Chaps that have got something on their minds can't stand idleness, it plays the bear with them. 1891 J. M. Dixon Dict. Idiom. Phr. s.v., The last storm has played the bear with my crops.


3. Astr. Name given to two constellations in the northern hemisphere known respectively as the ‘Great Bear,’ and ‘Lesser Bear.’

1398 Trevisa Barth. De P.R. viii. xxxv, Alwey þoo sterres wyndeþ and turneþ rounde aboute þat lyne, þat is calde Axis, as a bere aboute þe stake. And þerfore þat cercle is clepid þe more bear. 1551 Recorde Cast. Knowl. (1556) 263 The moste northerly constellation is the lesser Beare‥Nigh vnto it is the greater Beare. 1632 Milton Penseroso 85 Where I may oft outwatch the Bear. 1868 Lockyer Heavens (ed. 3) 320 Between the Great Bear and Cassiopeia is the Little Bear.


4. In New South Wales, the local name of the Phaseolarctos, a Marsupial animal allied to the Phalangers, called by the natives Koala or ‘Biter.’

1827 [see koala]. 1847 Carpenter Zool. §314 By the colonists usually termed the native Bear or Monkey.


5. sea-bear: popular name of a species of seal.

1847 Carpenter Zool. §202 Several species of Seal are known under the names of Sea-Lion, Sea-Bear, etc. 1883 Flower in Glasgow Weekly Her. 14 July 8/1.


6. A rough mat for wiping boots on; a block covered with shaggy matting, used for scrubbing the decks of vessels.

1795 J. Aikin Manchester 349 The making (by blindfolk) of‥white and tarred bears, foot-cloths, etc. 1805 D. Johnston Serm. for Blind 20 Rope-bears for cleaning the feet at our doors.


7. a. A machine for punching holes.

1869 E. J. Reed Ship Build. xx. 446 The holes which come in the plate-edges are usually punched by a bear.


b. Other technical uses: see quot.

1864 Reader No. 85. 203/3 A machine called the bear, which sheltered a number of archers. 1871 Trans. Amer. Inst. Min. Engineers I. 112 Metallic iron, not finding heat enough in a lead furnace‥congeals in the hearth, and forms what smelters term ‘sows,’ ‘bears,’ ‘horses.’


II. 8. Stock Exchange. A speculator for a fall; i.e. one who sells stock for delivery at a future date, in the expectation that meanwhile prices will fall, and he will be able to buy in at a lower rate what he has contracted to deliver at a higher. Formerly, The stock so contracted to be delivered, in the phrase ‘to buy’ or ‘sell the bear;’ see b.
[As applied to stock thus sold, bear appears early in 18th c., and was common at the time of the South Sea Bubble. The term ‘bearskin jobber,’ then applied to the dealer now called the ‘bear,’ makes it probable that the original phrase was ‘sell the bearskin,’ and that it originated in the well-known proverb, ‘to sell the bear's skin before one has caught the bear.’ The associated bull appears somewhat later and was perhaps suggested by bear.]

a. 1719 Anat. Change Alley in N. & Q. 1876 Ser. v. VI. 118 [Those who buy Exchange Alley Bargains are styled] buyers of Bear-skins. 1726 De Foe Hist. Devil (1822) 238 Every secret cheat, every bear-skin jobber.
b. 1709 Steele Tatler No. 38 ⁋3 Being at that General Mart of Stock-Jobbers called Jonathans‥he bought the bear of another officer. Ibid. ⁋5, I fear the Word Bear is hardly to be understood among the polite People; but I take the meaning to be, That one who ensures a Real Value upon an Imaginary Thing, is said to sell a Bear. 1714 C. Johnson Country Lasses i. i, Instead of changing honest staple for Gold and Silver, you deal in Bears and Bulls. 1720 Pope Inscr. Punch Bowl in South-Sea Year (Globe ed.) 490 Come fill the South Sea goblet full; The gods shall of our stock take care: Europa pleased accepts the bull, And Jove with joy puts off the bear. 1721 Cibber Refusal Wks. 1754 I. 41 (from end), And all this out of Change-Alley? Every Shilling, Sir, all out of Stocks, Tuts, Bulls, Rams, Bears, and Bubbles. 1731 Bailey, To sell a Bear [among Stock-jobbers], to sell what one hath not.
c. 1744 Lond. Mag. 86 These noisy Devotees were false ones, and in Fact were only Bulls and Bears. 1762 Gentl. Mag. 18 In contracts for time, he who contracts to sell is called the bear. 1865 Standard 23 Feb., The ‘bear’ party at the Paris Bourse plucked up courage to-day. 1881 Chicago Times 30 Apr., The bears made a strong fight against an advance.


III. Comb.


9. General relations, chiefly attrib., as bear-dance, bear-fat, bear-fight, bear-fur, bear-hide, bear-hunt, bear-kin, bear-meat, bear-whelp; bear-furred adj.

c1230 Ancr. R. 202 Þes laste bore hweolp is grimmest of alle. Ibid. 296 Þe deouel is beorekunnes. 1588 Shakes. Tit. A. iv. i. 96 But if you hunt these Beare-whelpes, then beware: The Dam will wake. 1780 W. Fleming in N. D. Mereness Trav. Amer. Col. (1916) 640 Bear fat is preserved sweet and pure. 1803 Lit. Mag. (Philadelphia) Oct. 64 A grand bear hunt is proposed on the third Wednesday in October. 1825 Scott Betrothed (1860) 349 Stretch thyself on the bear-hide, and sleep. 1845 Mrs. Kirkland Western Clearings 125 They were going to have a bear-hunt out there. 1856 Kane Arct. Exp. II. 311 Bear-meat, seal, walrus. 1859 Masson Milton I. iv. 113 Dancings, bear-fights, cock-fights, etc. 1920 D. H. Lawrence Lost Girl i. 11 Winter coats‥flourished their bear-fur cuffs. 1926 E. Sitwell Elegy on Dead Fashion 3 Nor walk within vast bear-furred woods.


10. Special combinations: bear animalcule, a microscopic animal of the group Tardigrada, a water-bear; †bear-ape, obsolete name of an American ape (see quot.); bear-bait = bear-baiting; bear-brat, contemptuous epithet = bear's cub; bear-bug, variant of bug-bear; †bear-claw (= bear's-breech); bear-covering vbl. n. (see quot. 1930); bear dance, a kind of dance practised by American Indians; bear-dog, one used in hunting or baiting bears; †bear-fell, a bear-skin; bear-fight fig., a riotous scuffle; a humorous name for a social gathering; hence as v. intr., to behave rowdily; bear-garden, a place originally set apart for the baiting of bears, and used for the exhibition of other rough sports, fig. a scene of strife and tumult; bear-grass U.S., one of various species of Yucca (esp. Yucca filamentosa), or of some similar plants; bear-hound (= bear-dog); bear-lead v. trans., to act as bear-leader or travelling tutor to (a youth); to conduct or lead; hence, to supervise the conduct of, arrange the affairs of; hence bear-leading vbl. n. and ppl. adj.; bear-leader, formerly a ludicrous name for a travelling tutor, cf. sense 2 above; also, a captor, custodian; bear oak U.S., the black scrub-oak, Quercus ilicifolia; bear-pit, a sunken enclosure in which bears are kept for exhibition; bear-play, rough tumultuous behaviour; bear('s)-breech, popular name of the genus Acanthus, Brank-ursine; bear's-ear, popular name of the auricula (sense 3); bear's-ear sanicle, herbalists' name of Cortusa matthioli; bear's-garlic, popular name of Allium Ursinum or Ramsons; bear's-grease, the fat of the bear, used esp. in medical and cosmetic preparations; bear's-muck (see quot.); Bear State U.S., the state of Arkansas (occas. also California); bear-wallow U.S., a hollow in the ground attributed to the wallowing of bears; bear-warden = bear-ward; †bear-wolf, a vigorous term of opprobrium; †bear-worm, obsolete name of a hairy caterpillar, or ‘woolly-bear.’


Also bear-baiting, -berry, -foot, -skin, -ward.

1889 Cent. Dict. s.v. Arctisca, *Bear-animalcules. 1607 Topsell Four-f. Beasts 15 Of the *Bear-Ape Arctopithecus. His belly hangeth very low, his head and face like unto a childs. c1590 in Chetham Misc. V, Maigames, rushbearings, *bearebaites. 1583 Stanyhurst Epitaphs 159 Thee *bearbrat boucher thy corps with villenye mangled. 1562 J. Heywood Prov. & Epigr. (1867) 194 They put on blacke scrafs, and go like *beare buggis. 1589 Fleming Virg. Eclog. iii. 8 Compassed about the eares with tender *beare-claw [leaues]. 1929 Observer 17 Nov. 4/2 ‘*Bear-covering’‥and the lowering of the New York discount rate‥were‥partly responsible for this‥partial recovery. 1930 M. Clark Home Trade 271 On the other hand, the bear who does not see prices fall in accordance with his hopes may also have to cut his loss and buy the shares he has already sold when not in possession of them at the best price possible. He enters the market as a buyer and by his buying sends up the price of the securities in which he is dealing. This buying is known as ‘bear covering’. 1969 Daily Tel. 5 Mar. 4/1 The share-price, helped also by a measure of bear-covering, rose 1s 6d. a1820 in Western Rev. II. 161 There are a number of other [Indian] dances, such as the *bear dance, the Turkey dance. 1673 Lond. Gaz. No. 763/4 A Blew brinded *Bear Dog of about three quarters old. c1350 Will. Palerne 2430 Wiþ hem boþe *bere felles þei bere in here armes. 1855 W. G. Simms Forayers xxxii. 373 It'll be a *bear fight first, I tell you—tooth and nail! 1861 C. M. Yonge Stokesley Secret xiii. 209 ‘Oh, Papa, may we drink tea with you?’‥ ‘Yes, to be sure, if you won't make a bear fight‥for your uncle.’ 1873 —— Pillars of House IV. xlvi. 298, I shall‥come back at dark when the bear fight is over. 1892 Daily News 23 Feb. 4/8 Did she bear-fight and play practical jokes on the Lord Admiral? 1900 Ibid. 24 Oct. 10/2 A don called Bedmynster used to bearfight in hall. 1596 J. Norden Progr. Pietie (1847) 177 And go to the‥*bear-gardens‥where they lose their time‥and offend the laws‥of her majesty. 1687 Settle Refl. Dryden's Plays 33 Our Beargarden Duellers. 1743 Wesley in Wks. 1782 I. 439 One of them having been a prize-fighter at the bear-garden. 1803 Bristed Pedest. Tour II. 543 Squabbles and boxings‥rendering the place more like a bear-garden than a hall of instruction. 1750 T. Walker Jrnl. 12 Apr. in J. S. Johnstone First Explor. Kentucky (1898), On the Banks is some *Bear-Grass. 1909 Cent. Dict. Suppl., Bear-grass 2. a bunch-grass, Stipa setigera, ranging from the mountains of California, where it is considered valuable, to Oregon and Texas. 1837 Carlyle Fr. Rev. I. iii. i. 80 The Wolfhounds shall fall suppressed, the *Bearhounds, the Falconry. 1891 C. Dunstan Quita i. i, I do call it hard‥to condemn me to *bear-lead a savage. 1898 Daily News 31 Aug. 5/5 It was he who bear-led Admiral Avellane and his officers. a1935 T. E. Lawrence Mint (1955) iii. xi. 188 The Adjutant bear-led poor enduring Dolly down the three interminable lanes of us dressed ham~bones. 1968 Listener 21 Mar. 381/1 The Establishment, bear-led by the Hearst Press, had decided that this turbulent man‥must‥go. 1749 H. Walpole Lett. H. Mann 202 (1834) II. 283 She takes me for his *bear-leader, his travelling governor. 1794 W. Godwin Caleb Williams III. vi. 114 My bear-leaders were considerably surprised with my firmness. 1846 Thackeray Snobs of England in Punch 18 Apr. 166/1 They pounced upon the stray nobility, and seized young lords travelling with their bear leaders. 1955 J. Masters Coromandel! ii. 87 She's picked up dancers and bearleaders and fiddlers and bullies. 1901 ‘Linesman’ Words Eyewitness (1902) 289 A guard of honour, and a *bear-leading general officer to see the creature safely and comfortably down to the sea. 1928 Daily Tel. 7 Aug. 6/5 There are‥more applicants for what used to be called ‘bear-leading’ than there are bears to be led. 1810 in D.A.E., Bear oak. 1832 D. J. Browne Sylva Amer. 263 This diminutive species is known in the Northern and Middle States by the name of *Bear Oak. 1849 F. L. Mortimer Near Home 297 In the city [sc. Berne] there is a *bear pit with three fat lazy living bears. 1862 F. Locker London Lyrics 66 (title) The Bear Pit at the Zoological Gardens. 1883 Pall Mall G. 14 June, That the university would not degrade itself in the eyes of the visitors by *bear-play. 1565 Golding Ovid's Met. xiii. (1593) 315 A traile of flowres of *bearbrich. 1736 Bailey Househ. Dict. 71 Bears breech or Brank Ursine, is an herb of singular use in physick, for‥the gout and cramp. 1597 Gerard Herball ii. cclxii. 640 There be diuers sorts of Mountaine Cowslips, or *Beares eares. 1671 Grew Anat. Plants i. (1682) 31 Sometimes single, as in Beares-Ears. 1611 Cotgr., Ail d'ours, Ramsons‥*Beares garlicke. 1863 Prior Plant-n. 17 Bear's-garlick, so called, says Tabernæmontanus, quia ursi eo delectantur. c1420 Pallad. on Husb. i. 838 And evry tole in *beres grees defoule. 1601 Holland Pliny II. 103 Wild Rose leaues reduced into a liniment with Beares grease. 1843 Thackeray Irish Sk.-bk. (1863) 286 A tuft on the chin may be had at a small expense of bear's grease, by persons of a proper age. 1846 Clarke in Jrnl. R. Agric. Soc. VII. ii. 517 The ‘dead peat,’ commonly called ‘*bear's muck.’ 1848 Bartlett Dict. Amer. 392, I once asked a Western man if Arkansas abounded in bears, that it should be designated as the ‘*Bear State’. 1872 Schele de Vere Americanisms 658 Arkansas is called the Bear State, though‥the name is pronounced Bar State.‥ California enjoys the same title. 1766 in Amer. Speech (1940) XV. 155/1 Two White Oaks Saplings by the *Bear Wallow Drains. 1787 Ibid., Standing by two Ironwood trees nigh a bear wallow. 1891 M. E. Ryan Pagan of Alleghanies v. 62 He rode‥on through the columns of white-oak, whose feet are caressed by feathers and fern in the long, desolate ‘bear-wallow’. 1884 Besant in Contemp. Rev. Mar. 343 The *bear-warden's fiddle. 1545 Brinklow Complaynt (1874) 89 Turne your chauntries and your obbetes from the profite of these *berewolues whelpes. 1608 Topsell Serpents 667 These Caterpillers‥by reason of their roughnesse and ruggednesse, some call them *Bear-worms.