Where do we get the stock market terms "bull" and "bear"?

Dear Cecil:

Where do we get the stock market terms "bull" and "bear"?

Cecil replies:

Cecil replies:

"Bear" is thought to have originated in a proverb that goes along the lines of, "Don’t sell the bearskin before you’ve caught the bear." This is roughly equivalent to "Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched," which is precisely what stock market bears do. Anticipating declining market prices, they sell stock they don’t own yet, gambling that the price will fall by the time they actually have to buy the stock and deliver it, netting them big bucks. The term had become popular among London stock traders by the early 1700s, when the bearishly inclined were called "bearskin jobbers."

The origin of "bull"–i.e., somebody who buys stock in the expectation that the price will rise–is not as clear. The term appears to have arrived on the scene a bit later than bear, and some believe it was suggested mostly by alliterative analogy to the earlier expression. The usual explanation for the choice is that bulls habitually toss their heads upward, but you could just as easily make the case that bulls get their way by bulling their way ahead–they create a stampede of optimism that prices will rise, and the inevitable result, the laws of supply and demand being what they are, is that prices do rise. However, this theory could be a load of you know what.

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.

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