In investing, the phrase bull market refers to when the economy doing well and stocks are going well, and bear market describes when it is performing poorly. Curious, I did some investigating, and it turns out the bear was first. According to Merriam-Webster, the term traces to an expression from the late nineteenth century that went something like "don't sell the bear's skin before you catch the bear" (basically a quirkier "don't count your chickens before they're hatched"). Over time, bear emerged to refer to people who bet against the economy, especially with options. Bull came about not long after based on the idea of a bear swipes down and a bull charges upwards to attack, and that could be metaphorically applied to the stock market going down or up, respectively. Usages of both expressions over time peaked in the 1930s and early 2000s.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.