Old English beran "to carry, bring; bring forth, give birth to, produce; to endure without resistance; to support, hold up, sustain; to wear" (class IV strong verb; past tense bær, past participle boren), from Proto-Germanic *beranan (source also of Old Saxon beran, Old Frisian bera "bear, give birth," Middle Dutch beren "carry a child," Old High German beran, German gebären, Old Norse bera "carry, bring, bear, endure; give birth," Gothic bairan "to carry, bear, give birth to"), from PIE root *bher- (1) "carry a burden, bring," also "give birth" (though only English and German strongly retain this sense, and Russian has beremennaya "pregnant").
Old English past tense bær became Middle English bare; alternative bore began to appear c. 1400, but bare remained the literary form till after 1600. Past participle distinction of borne for "carried" and born for "given birth" is from late 18c.
Many senses are from notion of "move onward by pressure." From c. 1300 as "possess as an attribute or characteristic." Meaning "sustain without sinking" is from 1520s; to bear (something) in mind is from 1530s; meaning "tend, be directed (in a certain way)" is from c. 1600. To bear down "proceed forcefully toward" (especially in nautical use) is from 1716. To bear up is from 1650s as "be firm, have fortitude."
"large carnivorous or omnivorous mammal of the family Ursidae," Old English bera "a bear," from Proto-Germanic *bero, literally "the brown (one)" (source also of Old Norse björn, Middle Dutch bere, Dutch beer, Old High German bero, German Bär), usually said to be from PIE root *bher- (2) "bright; brown." There was perhaps a PIE *bheros "dark animal" (compare beaver (n.1) and Greek phrynos "toad," literally "the brown animal").
Greek arktos and Latin ursus retain the PIE root word for "bear" (*rtko; see arctic), but it is believed to have been ritually replaced in the northern branches because of hunters' taboo on names of wild animals (compare the Irish equivalent "the good calf," Welsh "honey-pig," Lithuanian "the licker," Russian medved "honey-eater"). Others connect the Germanic word with Latin ferus "wild," as if it meant "the wild animal (par excellence) of the northern woods."
Symbolic of Russia since 1794. Used of rude, gruff, uncouth men since 1570s. Stock market meaning "speculator for a fall" is 1709 shortening of bearskin jobber (from the proverb sell the bearskin before one has caught the bear); i.e. "one who sells stock for future delivery, expecting that meanwhile prices will fall." Paired with bull from c. 1720. Bear claw as a type of large pastry is from 1942, originally chiefly western U.S. Bear-garden (1590s) was a place where bears were kept for the amusement of spectators.
updated on October 13, 2021