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Tuesday, October 20, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Genesis of word ‘bruin’ bears repeating

In this July 25, 2014, photo, a black bear is seen at the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty / AP)
In this July 25, 2014, photo, a black bear is seen at the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty / AP)

Even in our modern age of human domination, bears remain fearsome creatures that touch on primordial fears.

Still, it’s hard to imagine the terror and awe the massive creatures must have inspired in our ancestors.

It turns out the animal’s name gives us a glimpse into how seriously our predecessors took bears.

The modern word “bear” traces its roots to the Germanic word bruin, which means literally the brown one. This euphamism allowed people to avoid speaking the animal’s real name out of fear it would attract them.

Thus, said Ralph Keyes, the author of “Euphemania: Our Love Affair with Euphemisms,” the oldest-known euphemism in the English language was born.

“We know the euphemism, but we don’t know what word it replaced,” he told Time magazine in 2011.

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