loaded for bear

Sel&poivre

Senior Member
France - French
Hi all!

Is there someone to help me understand this sentence:
The ships are sitting in the main harbor and are loaded for bear.

What do "loaded for bear" mean here? Does it mean something like fully loaded?

Thanks in advance!

SP
 
  • panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I have never heard of this, but for fun, I'd guess that it is a hunting expression, these are naval ships, and they are ready for action - ready for anything. Rather like going for a walk in the woods and carrying a rifle that is capable of killing a bear, even though you don't seriously expect to see anything more substantial than a fieldmouse.

    Alternatively?
    Perhaps you could give us more context.
    Where did you find this sentence?
    What kind of ships?
    What happened next?
     

    CarolSueC

    Senior Member
    USA--English
    There is a good explanation at www.dictionary.com, which is a link from this site. It is defined as "fully prepared and eager to initiate or deal with a fight, confrontation, or trouble." I assume it comes from hunting talk. The hunter has his rifle loaded and is ready to confront a bear.
     

    MissFit

    Senior Member
    The literal origins are in hunting. If you are loaded for (hunting) bear, then you have a high caliber gun with the most powerful ammunition available. You couldn't be better prepared for confronting a wild animal. (If you go after a bear with less, you could be lunch for the bear.)
     

    CarolSueC

    Senior Member
    USA--English
    In addition to being prepared the person who is "loaded for bear" is eager for the confrontation. The phrase conveys the same meaning as "itching for a fight."
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    In addition to being prepared the person who is "loaded for bear" is eager for the confrontation. The phrase conveys the same meaning as "itching for a fight."

    Thanks to CarolSueC for pointing this out. This is a fairly common AE expression, and is rarely used in a literal sense. It is applied to people who are, as stated, "eager for...confrontation".

    Pan's early proposition that these are heavily armed naval vessels is consistent with that.

    The phrase can also mean something like, "ready for the worst that may come", as a chance encounter with a bear in the woods can be deadly if one is not fully prepared.
     

    Sel&poivre

    Senior Member
    France - French
    Ok thanks again all!
    That's clear to me now. Indeed, it takes place during the war, so the ship is heavily armed so that to be prepared to face any enemy approaching, should they be very powerful. (as a bear! :D)

    Thanks!

    :thumbsup:
     

    germinal

    Senior Member
    England English
    Ok thanks again all!
    That's clear to me now. Indeed, it takes place during the war, so the ship is heavily armed so that to be prepared to face any enemy approaching, should they be very powerful. (as a bear! :D)

    Thanks!

    :thumbsup:

    The expression does seem rather inadequate when used to describe the state of readiness of warships though. :)

    .
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The expression does seem rather inadequate when used to describe the state of readiness of warships though. :)

    .
    I don't know - a great deal depends on the nature of the anticipated enemy.

    If, for example, this text was written about the time of Cold War, being loaded for bear - the Russian Bear - would, taking into account the background explanation, have been extremely aggressive.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I'd like to underline the connotations of "eager for a confrontation" and "itching for a fight" offered above. To me, it doesn't only mean that the person is equipped or well-prepared for a fight, but actually ready at a moment's notice to start a fight.

    If someone said, "Watch out for Steve! He came into the office this morning loaded for bear" it would mean to me that Steve was already pretty stirred up and looking for a pretext to start a fight.
     

    germinal

    Senior Member
    England English
    I don't know - a great deal depends on the nature of the anticipated enemy.

    If, for example, this text was written about the time of Cold War, being loaded for bear - the Russian Bear - would, taking into account the background explanation, have been extremely aggressive.

    Nice point - I wonder if this occurred to the Americans though? I can't remember any famous politician using the phrase during that time. Here in Britain it seems that most politicians are, at present, loaded for Blair.:)

    .
     

    workingbird

    New Member
    english-US
    I think I used to hear this expression only as "loaded and ready for bear." I've always assumed that "bear" in this case referred NOT to the formidable animal, but instead to bear arms, to bring your weapon to bear upon your target. "Gentlemen, you may fire as soon as your weapons will bear."

    This would give it a meaning of being "ready to go," "ready for serious business," rather than meaning "heavily armed." Seems to me that it's an old, military expression that has evolved a new interpretation associated with hunting. Are there any military historians in the audience who might confirm this?
     

    lizzeymac

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    Hi workingbird -

    Welcome to the Forum.

    I've never heard 'loaded and ready for bear', only 'loaded for bear.'
    In New York City people are often itchin' for a fight and loaded for bear.

    The 1937 Websters and the 1922 OED on my desk say it's a hunting reference, and refer to large caliber weapons, big bullets, and eagerness to fight.

    Do you have any foundation for your theory that it is a "military expression'?
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    I think I used to hear this expression only as "loaded and ready for bear." I've always assumed that "bear" in this case referred NOT to the formidable animal, but instead to bear arms, to bring your weapon to bear upon your target. "Gentlemen, you may fire as soon as your weapons will bear."

    Welcome, workingbird. There's a problem with the prepositions in your theory.

    Whether or not you accept the hunting etymology, loaded for bear does not comfortably flow either to or from loaded to bear. Even if it were a shortened form of loaded in order to bear arms, that's still quite distinct from the original expression.
     

    workingbird

    New Member
    english-US
    Thanks for the welcome.

    Beyond having read too many historical novels, I have absolutely no scholarly reference to back up my belief that the origin of "loaded for bear" has nothing to do with bears, and I do hate to argue with the OED.

    Common sense, however, still suggests to me that the big-game meaning is wrong---- or, at least, was not the original meaning. I'm no expert on firearms, but I think that every modern, breech-loading firearm or other weapon has its own standard load, or ammunition, without much variety available for that weapon. You generally don't load up with "elephant" ammunition, you get yourself an elephant gun. So you wouldn't be "loaded for bear," though you might well be "armed for bear."

    But as I say, I'm just making it up. Does the expression predate breech-loaded weapons (when one might double the shot or double the powder charge, that is, load for something big)? Maybe I'd have to go back further than 1922 (and much further into the past than a Google search would take me) to find the original meaning, or perhaps I'm simply wrong. That's happened before.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    A little bit of additional background.
    If you look for references to loaded for xxxxx and insert various large animals of your choice in place of xxxxx you will find plenty of references, suggesting that there is an historical context for this phrase in the sense of being armed and on the hunt for xxxxx.
    The expression seems to have originated back in the days when the Great White Hunter roamed the plains and jungles of Africa.

    This analysis also shows, however, that loaded for bear is very much more common than any of the alternatives. As this particular variant cannot have come from Africa, the possibility of an alternative source can't readily be discounted, though it still seems most likely that the phrase has been adopted into the bear-hunting world from the original big game hunting context.
     

    lizzeymac

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    Thanks for the welcome.

    Beyond having read too many historical novels, I have absolutely no scholarly reference to back up my belief that the origin of "loaded for bear" has nothing to do with bears, and I do hate to argue with the OED.

    Common sense, however, still suggests to me that the big-game meaning is wrong---- or, at least, was not the original meaning. I'm no expert on firearms, but I think that every modern, breech-loading firearm or other weapon has its own standard load, or ammunition, without much variety available for that weapon. You generally don't load up with "elephant" ammunition, you get yourself an elephant gun. So you wouldn't be "loaded for bear," though you might well be "armed for bear."

    But as I say, I'm just making it up. Does the expression predate breech-loaded weapons (when one might double the shot or double the powder charge, that is, load for something big)? Maybe I'd have to go back further than 1922 (and much further into the past than a Google search would take me) to find the original meaning, or perhaps I'm simply wrong. That's happened before.

    Yes, 'loaded for bear' does predate breech loading weapons, according to most sources - the dates given range from the circa 1800 to the mid-1800s, in America. With a muzzle loading rifle, you can increase the amount of gunpowder to increase the force of the projectile. I don't know if you would put more than one projectile in into a muzzle loaded rifle?
    In the early days of breech loading rifles many people did make their fill own cartridges, measuring out the powder themselves. Some people still do make their own cartridges - people who shoot in competitions, historical re-enacters, and military snipers.
    As people have been hunting bears, and tigers, and lions, and bison since long before breech loaders were invented, that 'loaded for bear' refers to hunting seems likely.
     

    rich7

    Senior Member
    Venezuela español
    It's all about starting pitching tomorrow night. They're going to come out loaded for bear. And we have to play another good game tomorrow night. There's nothing to be taken for granted right now.

    What is the meaning of such expression in this context?
     

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    "loaded for bear" means you are coming in really ready to win or to put up as good a fight as you possibly can. (I think this comes from hunting somehow and implies that you are going out with the appropriate gun or ammunition to hunt a bear, not just a duck or something smaller, but others probably know more than I do about this. "Loaded" does imply that your gun is loaded.)
     

    Nunty

    Senior Member
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Moderator Note:
    I've merged this thread with the one cited in post #26. Please read all the replies before adding you own. Thanks. :)
     

    serviceman

    New Member
    English
    You may be interested to know that the phrase "loaded for bear" occurs in Robert Service's poem "The Shooting of Dan McGrew - written in the early part of last century. The context here certainly seems to mean being eager for conrontation.
     

    Fabulist

    Banned
    American English
    I missed the beginning of this thread but I can affirm (though not from personal experience) that before breechloaders and fixed ammunition (powder and projectile together), it was quite possible to vary the projectile(s) according to the expected target. A breechloading musket or rifle might be loaded with birdshot (a large number of small projectiles), buckshot (about three medium-sized projectiles), or a single ball, as large as would fit down the barrel. A single bullet or buckshot would be very inefficient for hunting birds or squirrels. During the American Civil War, the last hurrah for widespread use of muzzle-loaders, large-bore muskets were loaded with "buck and ball," i.e., one large round bullet and three smaller ones. I don't know what the proper load was for hunting bear, but it was thus possible to load a firearm with it and go out literally "loaded for bear."
     
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