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].
a devotee of, a stickler for, a fan of; the implication is of strict discipline.
SE in slang uses
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.
[mid-19C] (UK Und.) a young nobleman’s travelling tutor.
[mid-19C] (UK society) a play fight, a bit of ‘rough-and-tumble’.
[late 17C–early 18C] the vagina.
[late 17C–early 19C] coarse language, vulgarity; sometimes abbr. as bear-garden.
[mid-18C–late 19C] a travelling tutor; thus by ext. an expert who teaches by example.
[1920s] (US black) very strong (illicitly distilled) whisky .
[1970s] (US) an easy target.
[mid-19C] an all-male party, esp. on the night preceding the wedding of one of the men.
1. [1960s] (US campus) a fool, an ignoramus.
2. [1990s+] (US) a harsh taskmaster.
[1940s] a joc./offensive term of address.
[1900s] (US) a doughnut.
1. [late 16C; mid-18C] the pubic hair, orig. hair [resemblance].
2. [early 18C] (UK Und.) money [fur as a trading commodity].
[mid-19C–1950s] (US) a ‘tall story’, an exaggerated story.
[19C+] (US) a difficult situation.
[1990s+] a large, hairy vagina, esp. one that is dark in colour.
[mid-late 19C] (US) a challenge, ‘do your worst’.
[1940s] (US black) miserable, out of sorts, dejected.
see does a bear shit in the woods? Is the pope (a) Catholic? phr.
[late 19C] (Mexican/US) a form of courtship that involves hugging.
[1970s+] (orig. Citizen’s Band radio) to pay a parking fine, to get a parking ticket.
[1920s–40s] (US black) unhappy or unsuccessful in life or a given situation.
[1920s–40s] (US black) miserable, out of sorts, dejected.
[1930s–40s] (US black) a phr. implying that a noisy, bragging aggressive person is in fact all show and cowardice.
[19C+] (US) to let someone know what’s what, to tell someone off; thus know where the bear... v., to understand a situation.
[early 18C] to suffer.