bull & bear markets

These two stock market terms appear in the early 18th century. Bear was the first to appear, referring to the practice of selling stock one does not yet own for delivery at a future date. The expectation would be that the price would fall in the meantime, enabling the speculator to buy the stock at a lower price. Such speculators were called bear-skin jobbers after the proverb to sell the bear’s skin before one has caught the bear. Gradually, the term took on the meaning of being generally pessimistic about stock prices. From Sir Richard Steele’s Tatler of 1709:

Being at that General Mart of Stock-Jobbers called Jonathans...he bought the bear of another officer.

And:

I fear the Word Bear is hardly to be understood among the polite People; but I take the meaning to be, That one who ensures a Real Value upon an Imaginary Thing, is said to sell a Bear.

Bull appears a few years later, in 1714, and was almost certainly influenced by bear. From Charles Johnson’s The Country Lasses of that year:

You deal in Bears and Bulls.

There is commonly told story that the origin of these terms stems from the fighting styles of the two animals. A bear presses down on its opponents, crushing them, while a bull hooks them with its horns and lifts them skywards. This is just bunk with no evidence to support it.

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)

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