"Loaded to bear"?

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Vicki Needham and Niv Ellis, "Trump to face lion’s den at G-7 summit", The Hill 6/6/2018:

President Trump will walk into a lion’s den of angry allied leaders at this week’s Group of Seven summit, where he is expected to face a firestorm of criticism over his decision to hit them with steep tariffs on steel and aluminum. […]

Bill Reinsch, a trade expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Trump is likely to get an earful from the U.S. allies. […]

Reinsch said he expects the summit to be one of the most tense in recent history and said the other six countries are “loaded to bear.”

As usual, we have a problem of attributional abduction.  It's unlikely that Mr. Reinsch said what's attributed to him, since that would imply that the two journalists involved agree with him that the idiom is "loaded to bear" rather than "loaded for bear." It's possible that he said "loaded for bear" and one or both of the journalists misheard it or miscorrected it to "loaded to bear". But I think the most likely explanation is a slip of the fingers on the part of one of the writers.



  1. cameron said,

    June 6, 2018 @ 12:55 pm

    I like the somewhat confused metaphor of the inhabitants of a lions' den being "loaded for bear".

    The bear is also a traditional metaphor for Russia . . .

  2. AlexB said,

    June 6, 2018 @ 1:30 pm

    They could be loaded to bear arms, of course.

  3. Craig said,

    June 6, 2018 @ 2:17 pm

    The expression I've always heard is "armed for bear", meaning ready for anything, equipped to cope with very powerful, dangerous forces.

    But one wonders now if the right to bear arms includes the right to be armed for bear, or the right to arm bears…

  4. Tim Finin said,

    June 6, 2018 @ 2:22 pm

    Surprisingly, a Google search for "loaded for bear" reports ~185K results and one for "loaded to bear" reports ~85K.

  5. Gregory Kusnick said,

    June 6, 2018 @ 2:36 pm

    cameron: The metaphor is even shakier than that, given the firestorm apparently raging inside that lion's den.

    One hopes it isn't a load-bearing metaphor.

  6. Ethan said,

    June 6, 2018 @ 2:39 pm

    @Tim Finan: When I call up individual Google hits for "loaded to bear", many of them can be interpreted as meaning "ready to carry" or "capable of carrying heavy loads". For example, here's a fire dept bragging about the carrying capacity of their trucks.

  7. aka_darrell said,

    June 6, 2018 @ 2:59 pm

    I put exact phrase exact phrase "loaded to bear" into Google I get only 80 ghits.

    This Language column is the first two. I believe the other 78 are almost all related to supporting or carrying rather than to the animal.

  8. tim finin said,

    June 6, 2018 @ 3:13 pm

    > aka_darrell said,
    > June 6, 2018 @ 2:59 pm
    > I put exact phrase exact phrase "loaded to bear" into Google I get only 80 hits.

    Mea culpa, sort of.

    The google search does say it found "About 80,000 results" (see https://imgur.com/qpAL9ky), but if you walk through the result pages, there are indeed only about 80.

  9. Bloix said,

    June 6, 2018 @ 4:16 pm

    I was writing an email five minutes ago and as I was proofing it I noticed that I'd typed "next store" for "next door."

  10. Gregory Kusnick said,

    June 6, 2018 @ 5:33 pm

    Ethan: I read the Rescue 5 example as bragging not about the truck's carrying capacity, but about the range of gadgetry it's equipped with. On that reading, "loaded for bear" does seem to be the metaphor they were reaching for.

    Assuming then that "loaded to bear" is not just a slip of the fingers, or a prepositional substitution along the lines of "different from/to/than", is it possible that "bear" still refers to the animal? Are there regionalisms in which "bear" is a verb meaning "to hunt bears"?

  11. JPL said,

    June 6, 2018 @ 6:51 pm

    I never like the "slip of the fingers" explanation, and I've never heard of the expression, "loaded for bear". So I would rather say that Needham and Ellis used the quotation marks because that's what Reinsch actually said, but they would have reported it as, "… and said the other six countries are 'loaded to bear', whatever that means. Maybe Reinsch should have said that the other six countries are 'riled up and hungry for a meal'." Their editor would then have accused them of editorializing and then reverted to the nonsensical quote. That's my attempt at attributional abduction.

  12. John Roth said,

    June 6, 2018 @ 8:40 pm

    I've heard "loaded for bear" sufficiently often that it's part of my recognition vocabulary, although I would never use it. My understanding is that a person, weapon or other equipment is prepared to deal with something that's big, powerful and ugly, not necessarily the actual animal called a bear.

  13. Bloix said,

    June 6, 2018 @ 9:35 pm

    "Loaded for bear" means carrying a rifle loaded with a round big enough to stop a charging bear, and since bears are the biggest animal a hunter in North America will encounter, it metaphorically means prepared to take on anything or anyone. A google ngram shows that it came into use about 1880. Here's an example from 1883, from a book called Rustlings in the Rockies: Hunting and Fishing by Mountain and Stream:
    She was a large, savage-looking grizzly, and her cubs were about half-grown. I felt perfectly secure, however, for I was loaded for bear … I had one cartridge in the chamber of the rifle and three more in my left hand ready for immediate use, should the first fail to bring her down.

    And from the Oregon Sportsman, 1915:
    Mt Pitt was our destination, where bear, deer, elk and gray wolves abounded … and we went loaded for bear, for bear was what we wanted…

  14. Hector said,

    June 6, 2018 @ 11:48 pm

    Passing through Washington State in the late 70s, I saw a t-shirt in a shop window with the inscription “I support the right to arm bears.” I really wanted one, but the shop was closed for lunch, and I had to catch a ferry.

  15. Miles said,

    June 7, 2018 @ 6:21 am

    Hector – it's been a long wait then for some random guy on the internet to google it for you and show you where you can get one now.


  16. Miles said,

    June 7, 2018 @ 6:23 am

    By the way, I'm British and the idiom "loaded for bear" is completely unfamiliar.

  17. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    June 7, 2018 @ 11:20 am

    This is an interesting example of the use of an uninflected plural in a hunting context; we can hunt bear, though we wouldn't say 'there are three bear coming down that road', as we would say 'three sheep' or 'three deer'. (I notice that the Oregon Sportsman, as quoted by Bloix, says 'bear', deer', and 'elk', but not 'wolf'.)

    This means that in countries where we do not hunt bears, the phrase is not only puzzling because it refers to something we aren't familiar with, but also hard to parse.

  18. Jen in Edinburgh said,

    June 7, 2018 @ 12:20 pm

    'Loaded for bear' means less than nothing to me – I mean, it doesn't even sound like it *could* mean something.

    'Loaded to bear' at least sounds like it could plausibly exist, either through a connection to bearing weight, or with 'brought to bear' – but it wouldn't have occurred to me to connect either version with the animal.

  19. Theophylact said,

    June 7, 2018 @ 1:47 pm

    Definitely a familiar phrase for this American, anyway.

  20. Michele said,

    June 7, 2018 @ 5:08 pm

    Just adding my vote that "loaded for bear" is a familiar idiom to me, and also understand its derivation being as Bliox said above at http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=38636#comment-1551730.

    FTR, I was born in 1969 & raised in southwestern Ohio, where there are not so many bear these days.

  21. Keith said,

    June 8, 2018 @ 2:41 am

    Another Brit, here, and I'm in the minority for the moment, in claiming that I can't remember a time when I didn't know the expression "loaded for bear", as well as both its literal and metaphoric meanings…

  22. ajay said,

    June 8, 2018 @ 3:56 am

    I know the phrase from US sources but, as we lack bears, we don't really use the phrase ourselves. Substituting the name of the UK's most terrifying surviving land predator doesn't really work ("loaded for badger"). "Tooled up" is London slang, police/criminal variety, for being armed. But if you're using it metaphorically you'd probably just say "ready for a fight".

  23. ajay said,

    June 8, 2018 @ 4:03 am

    "Loaded for bear" means carrying a rifle loaded with a round big enough to stop a charging bear

    Or, more likely, a shotgun.
    A rifle only fires one sort of round; if you've got a rifle, and it's loaded, it's loaded. It's not loaded for anything in particular. The rifle may be intended for a particular target like birds or big game, but once you have the rifle there's only one sort of round you can put in it.

    A shotgun, though, could be loaded for birds (with a cartridge containing birdshot) or for buck (with larger buckshot) or for big game like bear (with a solid shot, which Americans refer to as a slug; this confused me the first time I heard it, because "hunting deer with slugs" sounded like a frustrating pastime in which the slugs' performance would always be a disappointment).

    I know the example given refers specifically to a rifle; but I would argue that he's using it figuratively to mean that he's ready for bear. It's not like he put in a special bear-killing round.

  24. Bloix said,

    June 8, 2018 @ 2:01 pm

    The whole point of "loaded for bear" is that you are not loading shot. Buckshot will take down a deer with a spread of pellets – it's easier not to miss even if some go wide. That's the whole point of it. But unlike bear, if you wound but don't kill, a deer will run. There's no danger in hunting deer except from your hunting partner. A bear will kill you.

    Buckshot will not stop a charging bear. It may not even penetrate the heavy coat and thick skin. You need a massive slug of lead and a huge charge to do that. "Loaded for bear" means you intend to anger a powerful and dangerous adversary, and to shoot to kill it at close range if necessary. That's the origin of the metaphor.

  25. Jerry Friedman said,

    June 8, 2018 @ 3:46 pm

    tim finin: Google numbers are just unreliable no matter what you do. You're better off looking at something that's designed to give you real numbers, such as the BYU corpora or a Google Books ngram search.

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