If You Are Going To Be a Bear, Be a Grizzly

Mohandas Gandhi? George Hyde Preston? Lynda Bird Johnson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi who famously employed nonviolent strategies has implausibly been credited with the following piece of folk wisdom:

If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has located no substantive evidence that Mahatma Gandhi spoke or wrote this statement.

The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in a short story called “An Inside Tip” by George Hyde Preston published in “Cosmopolitan Magazine” in 1908. Within the tale the leader of a brokerage firm was planning to drive down the price of a stock, and he expressed his attitude by proclaiming the adage. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI. 1

“Let me see; how many points did the stock go off in the last hour yesterday?”

“Seven, and it closed very weak.”

“Quite so Blair. Now today the word is, hammer it! We have them on the run. Order our brokers to raid the stock. No half measures! If you are going to be a bear, be a grizzly! The sooner it is over the better. The Barnard & Wilkes outfit tried to deceive us, and they have brought it on themselves.”

Preston may have coined the expression; alternatively, the colorful saying may have already been circulating. QI is unsure.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.




The saying was highlighted in the 1908 story because it appeared in the caption of an illustration depicting two conversing brokers. See below. This figurative language was particularly apt in the stock scenario because the phrase “bear market” referring to a down market was already in use by 1903 according to the Oxford English Dictionary. 2

grizzly310

In 1959 the “Chicago Daily Tribune” reported that a local barber employed the expression: 3

Mr. Drew, of course, is the man who contrived the banjo cut for Adlai Stevenson and told him, “If you are going to be a bear be a grizzly,” then sent him out to run for President. The banjo cut is where you take a meager, but sturdy, four strands of hair and draw them across pate like the strings of a banjo.

In 1967 Lady Bird Johnson was the First Lady of the U.S. living in the White House with her husband President Lyndon Baines Johnson. She kept a diary that was published in 1970, and in one entry she mentioned that her daughter, Lynda Bird Johnson, used the grizzly expression: 4

We went in to breakfast and it was hearty and delicious, including blueberry pancakes, and, naturally, Vermont maple syrup—hot, with melted butter. I thought of Lynda’s maxim, “If you’re going to be a bear—be a grizzly,” and ate as though I were going to spend the day plowing those rocky hills.

In 1977 “People” magazine published an article about the controversial pornographer Larry Flynt who remarked that his grandfather employed the saying: 5

“My grandfather always told me, ‘Son, if you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly,’” he recalls. “I’ve approached everything in life with that attitude.”

The popular 1981 comedy “The Cannonball Run” about an eccentric group participating in a cross-country car race contained an instance spoken with enthusiasm: 6

“Mad Dog, you are goin take the short cut to the interstate aren’t you?”
“We’re here to win ain’t we? If you’re gonna be a bear, be a Grizzly!”

In 1999 a message posted to the Usenet newsgroups misc.writing contained the saying: 7

Then she remembered a bit of inspirational advice her mother gave her: If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly.

In 2008 a user of the “Goodreads” website posted the saying with an unlikely ascription to Mahatma Gandhi who died in 1948. No citation was given: 8

Mahatma Gandhi
“If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly.”

The author of a 2012 book about healthy relationships was taken aback by the odd Gandhi ascription: 9

There’s a quote I like to refer to that’s widely used in our world today. It often surfaces in business, in motivational seminars, in movies and in countless other circles:

“If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly.” —Mahatma Gandhi

Were you just as surprised as I was when you saw that this quote is attributed to Gandhi? Wouldn’t you agree it’s the kind of quote you’d expect from a high-ranking military officer or an imposing business mogul, not a pacifist?

In conclusion, QI provisionally credits George Hyde Preston with this expression. Yet, it was possible that Preston’s 1908 story was simply presenting a pre-existing anonymous expression. The Gandhi ascription is unsupported. Perhaps future research will reveal more.

(Great thanks to Wilson Gray, Juan Ospina, Sarah Werner, John Overholt, Lisa Gold, and David Emery whose inquiries and comments led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Thanks to Wilson Gray who located the 1908 citation, Sarah Werner who found the 1967 citation, Wendy Robertson who identified the 1977 citation, and Tom Woodward who pointed to the 1981 movie. Also, thanks to Wilson Gray who suggested the relevance of the term “bear market” to the interpretation of the 1908 citation.)

Notes:

  1. 1908 June, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Volume 45, Number 1, An Inside Tip by George Hyde Preston, Start Page 91, Quote Page 91, (Quotation appears in text and as a caption), International Magazine Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. Oxford English Dictionary Online, Head Entry: bear noun 1, Entry: bear market, Draft additions 1993 Citation 1903: H. I. Smith Financial Dict. 63. (Accessed OED Online on December 8, 2016)
  3. 1959 March 27, Chicago Daily Tribune, A Line O’ Type Or Two: Barber at Work, Quote Page 12, Column 3, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)
  4. 1970, A White House Diary by Lady Bird Johnson, Date if Diary Entry: June 11, 1967, Quote Page 527, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  5. 1977 March 7, People, There Are People, Says Larry Flynt, Who Want His Mouth Washed Out with Soap by Bill Robinson, Time Inc. (Online archive of People magazine at people.com) link
  6. YouTube video, Title: If you’re gonna be a bear, Be a Grizzly!, Uploaded on Dec 21, 2013, Uploaded by: Big Idea Mastermind group, (Quotation starts at 8 seconds of 32 seconds)(This video excerpt is from the 1981 movie “The Cannonball Run”), (Accessed on youtube.com on December 7, 2016) link
  7. 1999 May 30, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: misc.writing, From: Anna Banana @interlog.com, Subject: Re: How much time to you spend? (Google Groups Search; Accessed December 7, 2016) link
  8. Website: Goodreads, Article title: Mahatma Gandhi > Quotes > Quotable Quote, Date of earliest comment: March 21, 2008, Website description: “Goodreads is the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations”. (Accessed goodreads.com on December 8, 2016) link
  9. 2012, Get the FACTS: 5 Secrets to a Healthy Christian Relationship from a Guy’s-Eye View by Jermaine A. Hamwright, Chapter 10: Give It Your Best Shot!, Unnumbered Page, iUniverse, Bloomington, Indiana. (Google Books Preview)