the origin of ‘bulls’ and ‘bears’

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    The Origin of ‘Bulls’ and ‘Bears’

    How did “bull” and “bear” come into usage on Wall Street? Here’s an interesting explanation that recently turned up in my mailbox:

    “In 17th century England, it was pointed out that it is not wise ‘to sell the bear’s skin before one has caught the bear’. In London, the term ‘bear-skin’ from this proverb was being used in the phrase ‘to sell the bear-skin’ or ‘to buy the bear-skin’. Bear-skin jobbers would sell a skin before they had actually caught the bear, in case prices went lower.

    “The word ‘bear’ first appeared in1709 and originally referred to the practice of selling stock one did not own, for delivery at a future date, in expectation that the price would fall. Gradually, the term took on the meaning of being generally pessimistic about stock prices.

    “ ‘Bull’ appeared a few years later, in 1714. It’s believed that bull was chosen because of the popularity of the blood sports of bear-baiting and bull-baiting. Bull- and bear-baiting date back to 11th century England. A bull or bear would be tethered to a pole (usually in a pub, to encourage betting) and attacked by 20 to 30 dogs. These dogs would ‘bait’ the animal.

    “Dogs were bred for powerful jaws and aggression to fight the bulls. There were the early British Bull Dogs, Mastiffs, Pit Bull Terriers and Staffordshire Bull-Terriers. In Shakespeare’s time, they had the “Bull and Bear-Baiting Gardens” in London’s Bankside neighborhood, and noblemen competed for the royal patent as Master of the Royal Game of Bears, Bull and Mastiff Dogs.

    “The term ‘bear’ became widespread in 1720, when England was rocked by the South Sea Bubble. The South Sea Company supposedly owned trading rights with Chile and Peru and was planning to make a fortune in gold mining. Within months, South Sea stock soared tenfold. A small problem, though: The King of Spain had no intention of letting an English company get its foot in the door in Spain’s South American colonies. The South Sea Bubble bust and wiped out fortunes. Sound familiar? Now you know the true origins of bulls and bear.

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