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Beard the dragon

Posted by Smokey Stover on May 19, 2009 at 14:12

In Reply to: Beard the dragon posted by Ross Forbes on May 19, 2009 at 07:22:

: What is the origin of the phrase, to "beard the dragon"

The phrase is not idiomatic except insofar as the verb "beard" is not very commonly used with dragons, probably because dragons are so scarce. The most frequent use nowadays of "beard" as a verb is probably "to beard the lion in his den [or lair]." This phrase probably incorporates, or can, both the beard as hair, and the beard as the face. With a lion, you can pull his beard, if you dare (but only once), or, in the more common use of the verb, you can confront him boldly or resolutely, oppose him with daring, and if you're lucky, face him down.

I've never heard or read the exact phrase that Mr. Forbes has quoted, but there's nothing peculiar about it. Even though dragons don't have beards, you can confront one with boldness and daring, preferably with sword in hand (like St. George), or possibly a taser. If the dragon is a metaphor for, say, your fears and doubts, you can face that dragon down with determination and some encouragement from your psychiatrist.

Among the earlier uses of "beard" as a verb, the OED cites these examples:

"1596 SHAKES. 1 Hen. VI, IV. i. 12 No man so potent breathes vpon the ground, But I will Beard him. 1682 Addr. Lancaster in Lond. Gaz. No. 1727/5 A Proceeding that Beards the Regal Power, Outfaces the Law, etc. 1749 SMOLLETT Regicide II. vii. 39 Sooner would'st thou beard The lion in his rage. . . ."