Language bears

Today I came across this quote from Francis Bacon on

“Men imagine that their minds have the command of language, but it often happens that language bears rule over their minds.”

At first I interpreted it as meaning that “language bears (i.e. linguistically-gifted bears) rule over their minds”, rather than the more likely meaning that “language bears rule over their minds”. I don’t know if Mr Bacon intended this to be a pun, but that’s what it is to me.

This got me thinking about what kind of creature a language bear might be – perhaps a real bear that have been taught or acquired a spoken or signed human language; or a talking teddy bear of some kind, like the BábógBaby, an Irish-speaking teddy.

The expression ‘to bear rule’ is not a common one, as far as I’m aware, and sounds like something you would find in the Bible. For example, the King James version of Daniel 2:39 is “And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth.”, and Esther 1:22 is “For he sent letters into all the king’s provinces, into every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language, that every man should bear rule in his own house, and that it should be published according to the language of every people.” – the king in question was Ahasuerus, who is identified with Xerxes I (519-465 BC).

This entry was posted in Language, Words and phrases.

6 Responses to Language bears

  1. Hahah. I love your more whimsical posts, man. “To bear rule” is indeed very seldom used. It’s unnecessarily wordy; using the word “rule” alone is more than enough.

    So I much prefer your first interpretation. But I don’t imagine them as linguistically gifted bears, but rather dagger-fanged grizzlies that stalk and destroy abusers of language.

    As in, “After using the numeral 2 to represent the words “to,” “too” and “two” more than 28 times in one hour on Facebook, little Jimmy lost his jugular to the unforgiving claws of the language bears who bore witness to his linguicide from the darkest corners of his room.”

  2. Charlee says:

    Language bears sound like a really good toy to teach kids a language?

  3. Drabkikker says:

    Nice one. At the Language Log, they call these kinds of ambiguous readings‘crash blossoms’.

  4. Yenlit says:

    In history lessons at school as a child ‘Diet of Worms’ always used to confuse me?

  5. Andrew says:

    I understand what “bear rule” means, but you’re right, that’s a very odd way of expressing that particular sentiment.


  6. That’s really an interesting interpretation. ha ha. Another reason for enjoying languages.

    I, as a non-native English speaker, think that ‘bear rule’ appears to be less strong than ‘rule’; I’d think it’s more like ‘have influence over’.

    Bacon’s quote a few hundred years ago indeed goes in line with what Neural Linguistic Programming (NLP) seems to suggest in recent years. How keen Bacon’s observation is!

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