Why not hug the bear?
November 18, 2010 4:29 PM   Subscribe

My coworker is curious about the expression "never put down your gun to hug a bear". What does it mean?

Google search revealed the phrase as a signature line on a police firearm forum and a variant "...hug a squig" on a WoW forum. I still have no idea what lesson to take from this. Is it about shooting first and asking questions later? About being cautious of folks who are seen as enemies in one way or another? About double crossing? Based on a meme?

Coworker heard the phrase from a friend in Alabama.
posted by momus_window to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It means don't do something stupid. Like... putting down your gun to hug a bear. It is pretty literal.
posted by strixus at 4:32 PM on November 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

It means if you're going to enter a dangerous situation, at least be prepared to protect yourself.
posted by hermitosis at 4:33 PM on November 18, 2010

Don't put aside your defenses in getting close to something that can easily do you harm.
posted by scody at 4:34 PM on November 18, 2010 [16 favorites]

I've never heard it before, but it just seems like a convoluted way of saying don't let your guard down. Like, a bear is dangerous, right? But they're also cute and furry, and you might think it's good for cuddling. But it's still got teeth and claws and would happily rip your head off if given the chance. Don't hug the bear.
posted by phunniemee at 4:35 PM on November 18, 2010

I'd go one further and say it probably ties onto the other old defensive saying, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."

Just because your enemy's enemy has your back in this particular fight doesn't mean they'll still have it going forward.
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:46 PM on November 18, 2010

It also infers that one should not forget what's really at stake in any situation, regardless of whatever extraneous detail comes along with it.

Bears look cute and fuzzy, and we're certainly socialized to think "harmless teddy bear." But they're still wild fucking animals.

"Aww, wook at da' cute widdle OH JESUS HE'S GOT ME HELLLLP!"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:46 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

And apparently it is an old cowboy proverb.
posted by bearwife at 4:46 PM on November 18, 2010

Don't put aside your means of protecting yourself just because you think it's safe.

Implied: because you never know when cuddly bear (normal civilian) will turn into rabid bear (cop killer civilian) and you'll need to put the bear down (shoot in self defense).
posted by librarylis at 4:49 PM on November 18, 2010

"Never drop your gun to hug a bear." Attributed to H.E. Palmer, "a member of the U.S. forces that settled the West in the later half of the 19th century."

If true..."It'd be nice to trust all of these folks we run into...but keep that rifle handy."
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:02 PM on November 18, 2010

Best answer: H.E. Palmer was actually an English poet. He did use the phrase in a poem. But maybe he just used an old proverb.
posted by interplanetjanet at 5:39 PM on November 18, 2010

Don't let your guard down.
posted by patnok at 6:19 PM on November 18, 2010

Don't put your head into the lion's mouth.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:41 PM on November 18, 2010

patnok has it.

to elaborate a bit, don't put your guard down when faced with something that wants to rip your shreds.

It also reminds me of that story of the snake that bit someone and said "ssss...im a snake, what did you expect" or whatever.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:31 PM on November 18, 2010

Response by poster: The poem is exactly what I was looking for - a cite for a more specific variant of "don't hug bears". Thank you!
posted by momus_window at 7:43 PM on November 18, 2010

I doubt most of the internet usage is so sophisticated as the poem but the poem's good - the hunter is trying to form an alliance with the bear against the leopard and lion whose cubs he (the hunter) has killed. He has no hope of prevailing on his own, so he's forced into attempting the alliance; but he lets his guard down as he's approaching the bear.

So it's about keeping your guard up, specifically when you're making a pact with the enemy. But then there's also an element of don't-underestimate-the-big-dumb-looking-bear: To wicked beasts be straight and fair; But do not pet them. Face them, and beware!

Compare with the adage He who sups with the devil should eat with a long spoon.

For posterity in case the link breaks here's the poem:
A FABLE by Herbert Palmer

A crazy hunter, following a bear,
And pressing harder than a man should dare,
Was menaced by a leopard and a lion.
Availed no prayer, no cries to Heaven or Zion,
For he had slain their cubs, and with vile blows,
And welded Sky to Jungle by their woes.

Gazing upon a tree, he swiftly fled.
But in his path, the bear, with turning tread,
Firm hindered the supposed security.
Oh, what to do? How save himself from three?
Dropping his gun, he howled and beat the air;
Then, stretching wide his arms, embraced the bear.
"Save me, sweet beast!" he cried, "Love! Lick my face!"
Which the bear did, returning the embrace.

You know the rest, you know that tightening squeeze
Only to think, it makes your spirit freeze;
Only to think, it pulls you to the ground,
And makes your blood run cold, your head go round.

Moral: To wicked beasts be straight and fair;
But do not pet them. Face them, and beware!
And never drop your gun to hug a bear.
posted by XMLicious at 10:12 PM on November 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

« Older What is this bug?   |   Build it, and they will come. But maybe it's... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.