"Strong like bear"... from where?
February 14, 2011 10:59 AM   Subscribe

Where does "strong like bear" come from?

It's so entrenched in the American pop cultural lexicon (though I always hear it with a Russian accent) that searching for its origins is near impossible.

One source people point to is Dave Egger's You shall know our velocity, but I tend to think this goes back further than 2004 (I expect he's quoting it more than coining it), and I tend to think it's from a comedy skit or standup routine. I'm not saying it can't come from literature, but I expect it came from TV or the movies.

There's a line in Moscow on the Hudson, "Strong as a Russian bear", but I don't think this has drifted like, say, "Play it again, Sam" has.

So, who said it, and where?
posted by codger to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think you want "strong like bull"
posted by hermitosis at 11:06 AM on February 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

I tend to think this goes back further than 2004

Yes. Google reveals that people were using it as a catchphrase in 2002, often with "::puts on Russian accent::" or similar as a preface.

posted by Sidhedevil at 11:06 AM on February 14, 2011

"Strong like bull" sounds a bit more familiar to me, and there's some discussion in this Snopes forum about the phrase's origins.
posted by illenion at 11:07 AM on February 14, 2011

Yeah, I thought we resolved this: Uncle Tonoose in Make Room for Daddy, a 1950s sitcom, used to say: "strong like bull, smart like streetcar" as a catchphrase. His first appearance on the show was in 1956.

The actor who portrayed Uncle Tonoose also was the voice of Snidely Whiplash on the Rocky and Bullwinkle show, which is perhaps why people often think of Rocky and Bullwinkle as the source.

- Source

(I thought it came from the female character on Rocky and Bulwinkle, so I googled "strong like bull bulwinkle" and go that)
posted by phrontist at 11:09 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Probably drifted from "strong like bull", which is at least as old as Rocky and Bullwinkle.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:13 AM on February 14, 2011

So the question is, how did it get from "Strong like bull, smart like streetcar" to "Strong like bear, smart like tractor"? Not via Dave Eggers, because there are lots of iterations of it out there pre- Velocity (including this fine band).
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:14 AM on February 14, 2011

I remember hearing a rather bad joke where "strong like bull" was mentioned sometime in the 80s. The joke didn't reference anything mentioned in the Snopes forum link but it did require a Russian accent. Given that I haven't heard the joke since, it's likely it was not the progenitor of the catchphrase we use today.
posted by tommasz at 11:22 AM on February 14, 2011

Before I read phrontist's post, I thought of Bulwinkle. And I've never heard of Make Room for Daddy.
posted by User7 at 11:36 AM on February 14, 2011

I'm with User7-- I distinctly hear it in the voice of Natasha, and while i often watched Rocky and Bullwinkle as a kid, I had never heard of Make Room for Daddy until today.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 11:51 AM on February 14, 2011

Everything in Rocky and Bullwinkle was a pop culture reference at the time, Dahlink!

My grandfather used it as his catch phrase in the sixties and I'm sure he watched "Make Room for Daddy" or at least heard the catch phrase a la Uncle Tonoose.
posted by readery at 11:57 AM on February 14, 2011

I heard this in the form of a sexist/Russianist joke: "Russian women - strong like bull, smart like tractor". Must have heard it 25 years ago.
posted by Hobgoblin at 4:05 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's a datapoint. Southern Mississippian here, and I have never in my life heard this phrase in any iteration.
posted by thebrokedown at 4:41 PM on February 14, 2011

I think bear is a strange gloss on bull. Bull is a natural gloss for its real predecessor, "strong like ox" -- a phrase which I found in a 1919 Baltimore Sun, apparently an ethnic joke attributed to "a Hindu". It's also in a version of the Catholic Reporter from sometime presumably midcentury attributed to one "Luigi".
posted by dhartung at 5:20 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

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