Today is Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Lot of Bear and Not Much Bull

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By ANNE DONNELL

Tell me about the origin of “bear market” and “bull market.” I’m mystified why a bear is weak. The black bear I met in the woods one morning long ago didn’t seem weak to me, though obviously I lived to tell the tale.  Thanks,
  -Likes Nature Better at a Distance
 

Wow. That “black bear in the woods one morning…” sounds like a story we can’t bear.  Is our QP of T (Question Person of Today) a bear for danger? Did he or she bear the brunt? Bear children? Bear up? Bear down? Would that be anything like hoedown? Beyond bearing? What about going into a cave with a bear? (Reminds me of homeroom.) Before you scream, do you want me to get started on bare with my bare knuckles? Is that the bare truth? Could you be a barefaced liar? Enough already? Barely holding on? Well, don’t be a bear about it.

TAKE A BREAK. FIRST THE STOCK MARKET CRACKS YOUR HEART, AND THEN I START YAMMERING AT YOU ABOUT BEAR AND BARE. (At least I didn’t take off on bull. Can you bullieve it?) ONLINE HUMOR (Thanks, JA) “What Is A Grandparent?” (taken from papers written by a class of 8-year-olds) • Grandparents are a lady and a man who have no little children of their own. They like other people's. • A grandfather is a man & a grandmother is a lady! • Grandparents don't have to do anything except be there when we come to see them. They are so old they shouldn't play hard or run. It is good if they drive us to the shops and give us money. • When they take us for walks, they slow down past things like pretty leaves and caterpillars. They show us and talk to us about the colors of the flowers and also why we shouldn't step on “cracks.” They don't say, “Hurry up.” • Usually grandmothers are fat but not too fat to tie your shoes. They wear glasses and funny underwear. They can take their teeth and gums out. • Grandparents don't have to be smart. They have to answer questions like “Why isn't God married?” and “How come dogs chase cats?”• When they read to us, they don't skip. They don't mind if we ask for the same story over again. • Everybody should try to have a grandmother, especially if you don't have television, because they are the only grownups who like to spend time with us. • They know we should have snack time before bedtime, and they say prayers with us and kiss us even when we've acted bad. • Grandpa is the smartest man on earth!  He teaches me good things, but I don’t get to see him enough to get as smart as him! • It's funny when they bend over, you hear gas leaks and they blame their dog. 
       
AN EXTRA: • A six year old was asked where his grandmother lived. “Oh,” he said,“she lives at the airport, and when we want her we just go get her. When we’re done having her visit, we take her back to the airport.”

Today’s source is The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories. Have you ever thought that after Noah Webster made his name in the dictionary world, financial transactions (bullish) then made all this the Merriam-Webster whatever. George and Charles Merriam bought the rights to Webster’s name and works in 1831. Now their name and products are staples on resource shelves, whereas my name and product (this column, folks) is a staple in garbage bin liners. Whatever. 

Re the word whatever. Youth have given us something fun to use – the word whatever. If we can shed our manners and sneer when we say it, we’ll have it down pat. People will say, with some kind of perverse admiration, “My, how young and adolescent  he/she is.” Of course those same people will be working overtime to refurbish their hurt feelings. Whatever. Practice saying whatever while you’re speaking on the phone. That will give you more time to get the facial expression under control. 

DEFINITIONS.  “A bull is someone who buys securities or commodities in the expectation of a price rise, or someone whose actions make such a price rise happen. A bear is the opposite – someone who sells securities or commodities in expectation of a price decline. By extension both terms are used as adjectives, so a bull market is rising in value, while a bear market is declining.”

That’s what they are, but why are those two animals used and not, say, a tiger and a rhinoceros? An alligator and a Rottweiler? An elephant and a donkey?  Oh, yeah, those last two have another job and are currently in a hospital in the Bahamas under fake names (“lhama” and “Chihuahua” would be amusing) recovering from exhaustion and stress-related issues. The donkey’s feeling a lot perkier than the elephant.

The bear came first; probably from an old, self-explanatory proverb (at least seventeenth century which means the Pilgrims could have been saying it up there around Plymouth Rock): “It is not wise to sell the bear’s skin before one has caught the bear.” I would bet those Pilgrims knew exactly what that meant. 
 
Business people began shortening this to “sell the bear skin” and, very soon, to “bear.”  That would be applied to stock being sold by a speculator. The speculator sold a borrowed stock with a delivery date sometime in the future. The expectation was that the price would go down and the difference between the two prices – you guessed it – would be profit! The South Sea Bubble scandal in 1720 (no time or inclination to explain that – get an MBA on your own) brought this to a crashing halt, and made bear a widely used business term. A few years before some bright, anonymous soul started using bull as a description of a speculative buy in the hopes prices were increasing. It stuck as the opposite of bear.

Well, children like teddy bears, not teddy bulls. Ferdinand is nice bull, though. (OK, that’s a reference to Munro Leaf’s children’s book, The Story of Ferdinand, which became a short Academy Award winning film, made by Walt Disney who was then still alive and unfrozen.  1938. Ferdinand would rather smell flowers than fight. Sometimes I would, too, but I try to push away the thought.)

 

 

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