Green’s Dictionary of Slang

bear n.

1. senses based on the bear’s appearance or perceived characteristics.

(a) [late 17C+] a gruff, irritable person; amplified in phr. a bear with a sore head.

(b) [1910s+] (US) someone who overworks their employees or students, a hard taskmaster/mistress; see also bear for, a

(c) [1940s+] (US black) a particularly ugly person, man or woman.

(d) (US) an African-American.

(e) [1980s] a grasping person, a miser.

2. [early 18C+] a Russian; also as the Bear, Russia [the Russian ‘national animal’].

3. [mid-18C+] the pupil of a private tutor, who is ‘led’ by his master (like a keeper with a tame bear).

4. senses based on the bear’s strength and power.

(a) [20C+] an expert, an adept; an excellent, admirable person; see also bear for, a

(b) [1900s–20s] of inanimate objects or circumstances, an exciting or otherwise exceptional example.

(c) [1910s–30s] an attractive (young) woman; usu. in phr. She’s a bear.

(d) [1960s] (US campus) a well-dressed man.

(e) [1970s] (US gay) sex as a compulsion.

5. fig. uses derived from the animal’s negative characteristics.

(a) [20C+] sunstroke; thus bear-caught adj., suffering from sunstroke.

(b) [1920s+] (US black) a misfortune, an unfortunate situation, a feeling of depression.

(c) [1940s–60s] (US black) constr. with the, poverty, misery.

(d) [1950s] (US prison) solitary confinement.

(e) [1960s–70s] (US campus) any difficult course or circumstance relating to college work.

(f) [1970s] (US black) an unpleasant lifestyle.

6. senses based on the bear’s furriness.

(a) [1950s] (US black) an overcoat.

(b) [1960s–70s] (US) the vulva.

(c) [1990s+] (US) a hairy, beefy homosexual male; thus bearish adj; also attrib.

7. [1970s+] (US) a policeman; thus bear in the air n., a police helicopter [f. US Forest Service’s mascot Smokey the Bear].

In phrases

bear for, a

a devotee of, a stickler for, a fan of; the implication is of strict discipline.

SE in slang uses

In compounds

bear cat (n.) [SE bearcat] (US)

1. [20C+] an aggressive or forceful person (occas. animal); something violent.

2. [1900s–50s] something excellent, first-rate; a person with great energy or ability.

bear-dancer (n.) [the tutor is seen as ‘leading’ his pupil, like a keeper with a tame bear]

[mid-19C] (UK Und.) a young nobleman’s travelling tutor.

bear fight (n.)

[mid-19C] (UK society) a play fight, a bit of ‘rough-and-tumble’.

bear-garden (n.)

[late 17C–early 18C] the vagina.

bear-garden discourse (n.) (also bear-garden jaw, [SE bear garden, orig. a venue for bear-baiting, latterly any scene of rowdy behaviour + SE discourse/jaw n. (1)]

[late 17C–early 19C] coarse language, vulgarity; sometimes abbr. as bear-garden.

bear-leader (n.) [the nickname for the tutors of the 18C who ferried their aristocratic pupils around the ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe]

[mid-18C–late 19C] a travelling tutor; thus by ext. an expert who teaches by example.

bear mash (n.)

[1920s] (US black) very strong (illicitly distilled) whisky .

bear meat (n.) [the size of a bear]

[1970s] (US) an easy target.

bear party (n.)

[mid-19C] an all-male party, esp. on the night preceding the wedding of one of the men.

bear’s ass (n.) [ass n. (2)]

1. [1960s] (US campus) a fool, an ignoramus.

2. [1990s+] (US) a harsh taskmaster.

bear’s breath (n.)

[1940s] a joc./offensive term of address.

bear sign (n.) [cowboy/trapper jargon bear sign, bear droppings; a doughnut has a similar shape]

[1900s] (US) a doughnut.

bearskin (n.)

1. [late 16C; mid-18C] the pubic hair, orig. hair [resemblance].

2. [early 18C] (UK Und.) money [fur as a trading commodity].

bear story (n.) (also bear tale, bear yarn) [the wildly overblown stories told by bear-trappers and other woodsmen to credulous listeners, the heading ‘A Bear Story’ appeared regularly in mid-19C US papers]

[mid-19C–1950s] (US) a ‘tall story’, an exaggerated story.

bear trap (n.)

[19C+] (US) a difficult situation.

bear-trapper’s hat (n.)

[1990s+] a large, hairy vagina, esp. one that is dark in colour.

In phrases

bring on your bears

[mid-late 19C] (US) a challenge, ‘do your worst’.

can’t go no further, like the bear’s brother (also ain’t no further...) [assonance]

[1940s] (US black) miserable, out of sorts, dejected.

do the bear (v.) [Sp. hacer el oso, do the bear; such ‘hands-on’ courtship was sanctioned in Mexico]

[late 19C] (Mexican/US) a form of courtship that involves hugging.

feed the bears (v.)

[1970s+] (orig. Citizen’s Band radio) to pay a parking fine, to get a parking ticket.

just like the bear, ain’t nowhere (also like the bear – nowhere) [assonance; note Jack the Bear n.]

[1920s–40s] (US black) unhappy or unsuccessful in life or a given situation.

just like the bear(’s daughter), ain’t got a quarter (also just like the bear’s brother, Jim, his pickings are slim) [assonance]

[1920s–40s] (US black) miserable, out of sorts, dejected.

nothing to the bear but his curly hair

[1930s–40s] (US black) a phr. implying that a noisy, bragging aggressive person is in fact all show and cowardice.

show someone where the bear shit in the buckwheat (v.) [shit v. (1a)]

[19C+] (US) to let someone know what’s what, to tell someone off; thus know where the bear... v., to understand a situation.

stand the bears (v.)

[early 18C] to suffer.