Skip to main content

25 Bear Idioms and Phrases Explained

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

Ben has a life-long interest in language and is particularly interested in the expressions, phrases, and idioms that contribute to it.

25 Bear Idioms and Phrases Explained

The English language offers excellent examples of these bear-related idioms and phrases that originate in people's observations and interactions with the bear.

Bears have been around humans for thousands of years. There is evidence that Neanderthals hunted and ate the now extinct Cave Bear some 30,000 years ago. Little wonder then that people across the globe have, over time, incorporated the bears' traits and characteristics into their language.

Many idioms related to bears express the strength and brutishness of these magnificent animals. Yet it is perhaps a little strange that, as children, we often have a different opinion of these creatures, seeing them as cuddly, cute, and sweet.

Idioms about Bears. Bears are such strong and formidable characters - even when just chilling.

Idioms about Bears. Bears are such strong and formidable characters - even when just chilling.

25 Bear Idioms in This Article

1. Busy as a Hibernating Bear

6. To Bear Up

11. To Bear a Grudge

16. Loaded for Bear

21. Poke the Bear

2. Bear Garden

7. To Grin and Bear It

12. Hungry as a Bear

17. I've Got This Bear by the Tail

22. To Bear Fruit

3. A Bear for Punishment

8. Bear the Brunt

13. Gruff as a Bear

18. Bear in Mind

23. To Bear Witness

4. A Bear Market

9. Slick as Bear Grease

14. Cranky as a Bear With a Sore Paw

19. The Average Bear

24. To Have a Cross to Bear

5. Bring to Bear

10. Like a Bear With a Sore Head

15. Take a Bear by the Tooth

20. Bear the Scars

25. To Give Someone a Bear Hug

1. Busy as a Hibernating Bear

Meaning: To suggest that someone is not at all busy.

Example sentence: "Tom says he has no time to help at the party, but I know he is off work that day; he is about as busy as a hibernating bear."

Plausible origins: Black bears are typical of the hibernation habits of these species, with around five months spent asleep or showing much-reduced activity as they attempt to see out the harsh winters. Little wonder then that people reflect this in expressions to suggest someone as being idle, lazy, or lethargic.

However, not all bears hibernate; the Polar Bear will often remain active as it seeks out sustenance all year round in the low-food environment it calls home.

2. Bear Garden

Meaning: A place full of contention or noise.

Commonly accepted Source: From the English Tudor period. A time when Bears were baited and attacked by dogs. The rowdy behavior of spectators present was well documented.

Bear baiting has been around for many centuries and across many continents. It was practiced to varying degrees in England between the 12th and 19th centuries.

In Pakistan, there are reports that bears were baited by dogs as recently as 2004, and in North America, a bear-baiting operation was shut down as recently as 2013. (1)

3. A Bear for Punishment

Meaning: To stand rough treatment. A way of saying that someone is rugged or tough.

Example sentence: "Tony is a tough guy; he is a real bear for punishment."

Possibly related in some way to the above idiom, but likely to be an expression of the strength, endurance, and fortitude we all commonly associated with the bear. After all, when we as adults think of the word bear and its meaning, those that often spring to mind are brave, brace, reinforce, endure and tolerate—all examples of the perceived strength of this magnificent animal.

4. A Bear Market

Meaning: A Bear Market is when investors feel pessimistic; consequently, they are more likely to sell than buy shares.

Example sentence: "I should have sold those shares earlier; I knew it was a bear market."

Origins: There are a couple of commonly accepted sources of this phrase:

a) The literary version as described by Merriam Webster Dictionary

"Etymologists point to a proverb warning that it is not wise 'to sell the bear's skin before one has caught the bear.' By the eighteenth century, the term bearskin was being used in the phrase 'to sell (or buy) the bearskin' and in the name 'bearskin jobber,' referring to one selling the bearskin." (2)

b) The term "bear" in finance circles is often heard alongside the term "bull." Each with an opposite meaning. Using the method in which each of these animals typically attacks its challengers. The bear will swipe down on its adversary (the financial trend here being a downward one and, therefore, a time to sell). The bull thrusts its horns upwards (the movement here being an upwards one and, therefore, a time buy). (3)

5. Bring to Bear

To bring something into action. To do something that creates the looked-for outcome.

Sometimes said in the past tense as Brought to Bear.

Example sentence: "We will win this battle—the army will ensure all resources are brought to bear to ensure the job gets done."

Bears are always ready and prepared to step up and take action. These bears are certainly living up to their fearsome reputation.

Bears are always ready and prepared to step up and take action. These bears are certainly living up to their fearsome reputation.

6. To Bear Up

Meaning: You should remain in high spirits, even if things are not going well. This saying can also indicate that people should become invigorated or animated in their actions.

Example sentence: "Joey is bearing up well. Especially when you consider what she is going through."

Interestingly, "to bear up" also has sailing connotations, meaning to steer the ship more closely into the wind. This action is a more challenging, uncomfortable manoeuvre than the opposite, to bear off.

7. To Grin and Bear It

Meaning: To suggest that someone should put up with or endure something unpleasant with good humor. To smile even if the situation is horrible.

Example Sentence: "I don't like having to do this anymore than you do, but I will just have to grin and bear it."

Origins: The Old English word "grinnian" means to show one's teeth in anger or pain and means to endure something.

Similar expressions date as far back as the late 1700s (appears in Erasmus Darwins Zoonomia, 1794). An example is "grin and abide," used to say that you should cope with adversity with good humor. (4)

Grin and Bear Idiom

8. Bear the Brunt

Meaning: A phrase that describes having to endure the worst of something. It can also mean to hang tough.

It is thought in some circles that the word "brunt "is from the 14th-century Norse word "Bruna" (to advance like wildfire).

9. Slick as Bear Grease

Meaning: that a person is a slick and smooth operator.

Interestingly, as commented on Wikipedia (5), bear's grease was a popular hair loss treatment from the mid-1600s until just after the beginning of the 20th century.

10. Like a Bear With a Sore Head

Meaning: It describes someone irritable, possibly in a lousy mood, and mistreating others.

Example Sentence: "I don't know what's up with you this morning; you're like a bear with a sore head."

Origin: As Karen Hill cites (6), evidence of this expression in the Cincinnati Gazette, October 26, 1824, "The engineer, Dawson, a pussy fast witted Irishman, was raving round the forecastle like a bear with a sore head, ever and anon vociferating corruption," and W. G. Simms, The Partisan (1835)

Like a bear with a sore head - idiom

Like a bear with a sore head - idiom

11. To Bear a Grudge

Meaning: Someone is angry about something and unwilling to forget, usually over a misdeed.

Example Sentence: "I know I acted foolishly—but it was a silly mistake, and I meant no harm; please don't continue to bear a grudge against me."

12. Hungry as a Bear

Meaning: To be starving.

Example sentence: "I am ravenous this morning; I'm as hungry as a bear."

Origin: It is commonly acknowledged that this phrase is ancient; however, there is little documented evidence to support this view.

Can You Bear to Watch This?

13. Gruff as a Bear

To say that someone is unsociable or speaks very abruptly or rudely.

Example sentence: "I'm annoyed with Anthony. He never says good morning or acknowledges me; he's as gruff as a bear most days."

14. Cranky as a Bear With a Sore Paw

Meaning: To suggest that a person is very irritable or irrational in their behavior.

Similar to the idiom above in meaning.

15. Take a Bear by the Tooth

Meaning: This idiom expresses the view that you have put yourself in a dangerous position.

Example sentence 1: "I know the snowfall made the roads treacherous, but I just took the bear by the tooth and drove anyhow."

Example sentence 2: "This will be a dangerous route to take—what I want to know is have you got what it takes to take this bear by the tooth?"

I'm not sure I would have what it takes to take these bears by the teeth.

I'm not sure I would have what it takes to take these bears by the teeth.

16. Loaded for Bear

Meaning: To be prepared for any eventuality. Typically said when someone is ready for a confrontation—possibly in a rage.

Example sentence: "They are armed to the teeth; they sure are loaded for bear."

Origin: Dates back to North America in the mid-1800s. Its literal meaning was to load a firearm sufficiently enough (with powder or shot) so that it had the firepower to bring down a Brown bear, one of the largest and most potent bears.

The idiom "gunning for bear" has a similar meaning.

17. I've Got This Bear by the Tail

Meaning: This phrase suggests that a person has a significant or difficult decision to make.

Example Sentence: "I know that you find this a difficult thing to do, but you simply have to grab the bear by its tail and get it done."

There is no commonly accepted source of this idiom. However, it bears striking similarities to the Chinese / Indian saying "hold a Tiger by the tail," which has been recorded as far back as the early 1800s.

18. Bear in Mind

Meaning: To consider something as an option. To be mindful of something.

Example sentence: "I know you want to consider the impacts of your decision on those families affected, so please continue to bear in mind the consequences upon them when drawing your conclusion."

19. The Average Bear

Meaning: To say something is average or the norm.

The cartoon character Yogi Bear often used this expression as the catchphrase, "Better than the average bear!"

20. Bear the Scars

Meaning: Suffering emotional pain.

Example: "I walked away from the high-speed crash that killed the driver, but I still can't face getting into another vehicle; I still bear the scars of that experience."

21. Poke the Bear

Meaning: To deliberately offend or make someone angry.

Example sentence: "I can't help myself—he makes my blood boil; I cannot resist poking that bear whenever I see him."

22. To Bear Fruit

Meaning: To say that effort or hard work has yielded a successful outcome.

Example sentence: "Keep up the sterling work; I believe it will bear the fruit of your labors in good time."

23. To Bear Witness

Meaning: To offer statements or testimony to the truth of something.

Example sentence: "I can bear witness to the fact that he broke the window with a brick."

24. To Have a Cross to Bear

Meaning: To carry a burden.

Example sentence: "I know that it's difficult always having to look out for your younger brother, but we all have a cross to bear,"

25. To Give Someone a Bear Hug

Meaning: Put your arms around someone and hug them tightly in a show of affection.

Example sentence: "He wrapped his arms around me and gave me a huge bear hug."

References

  1. "Bear Baiting", Wikipedia. Retrieved 2022, September 24. https://wikipedia.org./wiki./bear-baiting
  2. "The History of Bull and Bear Markets", Merriam Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 2022, September 25.
  3. Chen, J. (2022, June 13). "What Is a Bear Market?" Investopedic.com. https:/investopedia,com/term/b/bearmarket.asp
  4. "Bears Grease", Wikipedia. Retrieved 2022, September 22. https://en.wikipedia.org./wiki./bear%20s_grease
  5. Hill, K. (2022, March 1). "Where does the expression like a bear with a sore head come from and what does it mean"

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

JEREMIAH MWANIKI KILUNDA from Nairobi on November 06, 2020:

As busy as hibernating bear caught my attention! Sounds ridiculous. Good work sir.

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on June 17, 2018:

Thank you Asher for your comment. I will certainly try to address your request.

Asher Kabeer from Rawalakot on June 17, 2018:

Great work. you should also add sentences of every idiom.

goldenrulecomics from New Jersey on August 28, 2013:

Nicely done!

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on March 06, 2013:

@MaryMitchell: Thanks for your visit and comment - very much appreciated.

MaryMitchell on March 05, 2013:

Bears are great and no danger to anyone, until we invade their space as we do with so many wild animals!

Pangionedevelopers on February 09, 2012:

Great info here, I just went through your last 5 sites and I like'd them all

David P here

mermaidlife on November 29, 2011:

Bear in mind or is it - bear in mind. or how about bear necessities or is it - bare necessities. oh well I tried.

anonymous on October 15, 2011:

I don't think I've ever heard "As busy as a hibernating bear" before, it certainly does paint a picture!