What are the origins of the expressions bull and bear when talking about markets or general optimism?
Some say that the expressions relate to bull and bear fighting, a bloodsport in parts of Europe in past times, and the image of bulls goring with their horns in upward motion, whereas bears tended to swipe in a downward motion. This metaphor may certainly have helped to reinforce the expression, but is unlike to have been the origin. It is most likely that the term bear derives from an old French proverb applied to the English market namely ne vendez pas la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué (don’t sell the bear’s skin before you’ve killed the bear – the English equivalent refers to catching rather than killing the bear). At some stage after the bear term was established, the bull, already having various associations with the bear in folklore and imagery, became the natural term to be paired with the bear to denote the opposite trend or activity, i.e. buying stock in expectation of a price rise.