Posted by Smokey Stover on August 03, 2005
In Reply to: "Don't poke the bear" posted by Lisa on August 03, 2005
: I'd like to find out if anyone knows where the expression "Don't poke the bear" came from. I don't know a lot of people who have heard of it, but some have, but no one seems to know its origin.
It's possible that the expression came from someone who had poked a bear, or at any rate had had enough experience with bears to know what would happen. Used figuratively, the bear can be any person or entity with a capability like that of a bear to inflict pain or damage. During the Cold War, the expression was often used with Russia as the bear. But it means more generally, don't deliberately irritate anyone or anything that might make you sorry. You can apply it to institutions on the highest level: government advisers no doubt often tell their bosses "not to poke the bear," or at least the equivalent. Don't unnecessarily stir up trouble with, say, another government which might feel like getting back at you. The first time it was used? I have no idea. SS