Word Of The Week, Bear

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Please bare with us while we undergo renovations

read the sign in the shop window. Imagine my disappointment when, entering the shop and slowly stripping off, no-one joined in!

And the police were called.

And cautions given.

Apparently, according to the judge, the sign should not have been read as either invitation, request or instruction

Not a true story!

But when the lovely Mrs P. asks how to spell “bear” as in “bear with me”, it is an image that flashes through my mind!

And it is a totally understandable confusion: bear is so strongly linked with its homonym of bear the animal, the ursidae in their Latin name

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that it just doesn’t feel right to use it in other contexts.

And it’s use as a verb, transitive and intransitive, to mean to endure or to carry something is a tad archaic now. Even though the most fundamental and primal human experience of being born is the past participle of this verb, do we even refer to a pregnant woman as bearing a child? Even though I remember my grandmother complaining that my uncle had married a woman

past child-bearing age

it sounds rather Victorian and squeamish and euphemistic. Nowadays, don’t we just have children rather than bear them? The intransitive connotations of the word – suggesting to endure or to suffer hardships and trials – are also rather archaic in the contexts: are children a trauma to be borne with fortitude; or a blessing to be celebrated?

Perhaps women have a different attitude. I mean, as a guy, I accept that we have it easy!

And that this is dangerous territory!

Let us move to another use which still persists: particularly in America perhaps, the right to bear arms is a cherished right. But, once again, it is a right enshrined in the Second Amendment of The Constitution in 1791 and therefore has the power of history, and is used almost ritualistically, almost fetishistically, amongst some people. But once more I fear I may be treading on dangerous ground.

And it may say an awful lot about me that I’m more afraid of the wrath of pregnant women!

To have said that the word bear is a tad archaic is literally true: the word derives from the Middle English beren and Old English beran with kinship to the same word, beran in Old High German and, with the shift between the unvoiced /f/ phonemes to the voiced /b/ over time, the Latin ferre and Greek phérein.

It is therefore – fittingly with its universal and primal sense of our being born – an ancient word whose use goes back literally beyond the rise of English as a language.

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