The Original Word To Refer To A Bear Has Actually Been Lost

Jeff Glennon | April 4th, 2019

There has always been a morbid fear and fascination with bears, mostly due to them being a vicious apex predator – people have been afraid of them in history. Especially as in Ancient times bear populations would have been a lot stronger & being attacked by a bear in a forest may have been more common.

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Just think of the black humor joke around bears: How fast do you have to run to survive when being chased by a bear? The answer is Faster than your friend. Survival is what the joke is about, that when interacting with a powerful predator, survival is the number one job. Dealing with these sorts of dire situations has even caused humans to make up superstitions about the whole scenario. Which is why we actually do not know the true word for bears. Bear actually linguistically simply means The Brown One.

If you look up the etymology meaning of “Bear” then you will find it comes from a Germanic term “Beron” which would mean the brown one. Of course, it not really that special for words to have evolved from their descriptive terms, words have to come from somewhere. But the bear is actually quite a special one because it was not actually the animal’s real name. In fact, it turns out that bear is a euphemism for the animal’s original name.

You see in ancient times bear attacks were one of the most feared interactions with wild animals – no one would live to tell the tale after being attacked by a bear. Our ancestors were so worried by bears they did not even want to say the creatures name. It was thought the bears would hear them speaking about them and actually come out to hunt you down. Which is why they started to refer to them as bears meaning the brown one – a euphemism for the real word.

We do know that this practice started in Northern Europe, and it has been confirmed to not be the true animal’s name. However, we actually have no idea what the word was that it replaced – which makes bear the oldest known euphemism.

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