The Origins of “Bear” and “Bull” Markets: Unraveling Financial Metaphors

The Origins of "Bear" and "Bull" Markets: Unraveling Financial Metaphors

In the world of finance, terms like “bull market” and “bear market” are commonplace and used to describe the direction of stock prices and overall market sentiment. These metaphors, however, have a curious origin that dates back centuries. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the history behind these terms, helping to shed light on why a bear market is called a bear and why a bull market is associated with the mighty bull.

The Bear Market: A Symbol of Hibernation

A “bear market” refers to a prolonged period of declining stock prices by more than 20%, often accompanied by negative investor sentiment.1 The term “bear” has a few origins of the expression and when it was originally used.

When a bear is about to hibernate for the winter, it becomes lethargic and less active, leading to a slowdown in its movements. Similarly, in a bear market, the financial landscape is characterized by sluggish economic activity, reduced trading volumes, and a general sense of stagnation.1 Investors can become cautious and conservative, anticipating further declines in stock prices. The term “bear” has also been thought to derive from how the animal fights, bears will swipe down.4 If the movement of a market is down, it is commonly referred to as a bear market.4

The association between bears and market downturns likely emerged in the 18th century in London’s financial district.2 In global history, the worst bear market was the crash that followed the Mississippi/South Sea Bubble in 1719 where the world index fell 89%.2 The term was solidified when it appeared in the book “Every Man His Own Broker” by Thomas Mortimer in 1761.2 Mortimer wrote, “Selling the bear” as a way to describe short selling, which is betting on the price of a security or market index to fall.2

The Bull Market: A Symbol of Power and Optimism

Conversely, a “bull market” is characterized by a sustained upward trend in stock prices, the commonly accepted definition is when stock prices rise by at least 20%.3 The term “bull” in this context stems from the bullish nature of a charging bull.1

A bull, when it charges, thrusts its horns upwards in a powerful, upward motion.1 This imagery is analogous to the upward trajectory of stock prices in a bull market.3 In this scenario, Investors are optimistic about the future, and trading volumes are generally high as people buy stocks in anticipation of further gains.3

The association between bulls and market upswings likely gained prominence in the early 18th century.2 In the last half of the 1700s, there were two bull markets, one between 1762 and 1768 and the other between 1784 and 1792.2 This metaphor has been used in various contexts, from the “bulls and bears” of the stock market, to when historians claim that it began with how the bull and bear fights, to the bearskin traders or a combination of these ideas.2

The Language of Finance

Understanding the origins of financial terms like “bear market” and “bull market” can add depth to the comprehension of the world of finance. These metaphors, rooted in centuries-old traditions, can continue to shape how we perceive and navigate the complex terrain of the stock market.While investors may be keen on following the path of a bull or bear market, Mark Matson, Founder and CEO of Matson Money, warns investors of the potential dangers of being short-sighted in your investing strategy. “Investors should focus on the next 20 years, not the next 20 minutes,” he says.

Redefining Investor Bears and Bulls

A bear investor tends to believe that prices will drop while a bull in the stock market tends to believe prices will rise. As an investor, the next time you hear these terms, you can have a deeper appreciation for the rich history that underpins them. Whether you’re in a bear or bull market, the financial world is a dynamic and ever-changing landscape, shaped by centuries of human ingenuity and adaptation.

Due to the inherent volatility in the market, whether it is in a bull or bear period, we believe that not only should your portfolio be prudently and professionally engineered but should have a strategy to execute throughout time. Engineering a globally diversified portfolio that meets an investor’s personal risk/return preference can be a great first step. To learn more and train to be a prudent and disciplined investor, attend Matson Money’s flagship event, the American Dream Experience. It’s a potential breakthrough in financial education we designed to be pitch-free, so you can walk out with the tools to cultivate your financial future.


This content is based on the views of Matson Money, Inc.  This content is not to be considered investment advice and is not to be relied upon as the basis for entering into any transaction or advisory relationship or making any investment decision. 

This content includes the opinions, beliefs, or viewpoints of Matson Money.  All of Matson Money’s advisory services are marketed almost exclusively by either Solicitors or Co-Advisors.  Both Co-Advisors and Solicitors are independent contractors, not employees or agents of Matson. 

Other financial organizations may analyze investments and take a different approach to investing than that of Matson Money. All investing involves risks and costs. No investment strategy (including asset allocation and diversification strategies) can ensure peace of mind, guarantee profit, or protect against loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

1. Bear Market Guide: Definition, Phases, Examples and How to Invest During One. June 13, 2022. Retrieved September 18, 2023.

2. The Century of War: Bear Markets in the 1700s. May 28, 2019. Retrieved September 18, 2023.

3. What is a Bull Market, and how can investors benefit from one? June 9, 2023. Retrieved September 18, 2023.

4. Where did the Bull and Bear Market get their names? September 12, 2023. Retrieved September 18, 2023.,was%20considered%20a%20bull%20market