We’re in the Orechiella National Park, Parco dell’Orecchiella, in the north of Italy. Here, there are bears.
There are only eight species of bear alive today. These are the Brown Bear. They are in an enclosure in the woods. They’re out and about very early in the year this year. They really should be snoozing.
It is difficult to find the origin of the word bear. It seems to come from the Proto-Indo-European language word for wild animal; not just a bear, but any wild animal. Proto-Indo-European, or PIE was spoken between 6,500 and 4,500 years ago. It’s the ancient ancestor of many of the world’s languages.
The original name for a bear in proto-Germanic languages was arkto.
Arkto. It’s a great name. Why didn’t they carry on using it? Why wouldn’t you call an animal by its real name? Why not call an arkto an arkto? Why call it just a generic name for any wild animal.
It’s thought that people feared using the name arkto, because if they did then one would appear. It’s a superstition similar to “Speak of the devil and he shall appear”.
People expressed their primitive fear with, “Don’t say arkto, or one will appear”. Perhaps someone did say arkto and one did appear, many thousands of years ago. Clearly, whoever did was never allowed to forget it. Imagine the conversation, “He said arkto and one came straight out of the woods towards us!”
Names are powerful spells to conjure with. Arkto, the spirit of the forest, Arkto the powerful, wildest of animals Arkto who appears as if from nowhere in the spring. Arkto the winter sleeper. Arkto the honey robber.
Bears are called bears out of the fear of saying their name. Calling a bear a bear is like saying “Speak not of the wild animal, lest he should appear,” because you’re simply too afraid of seeing one.
The name bear is a euphemism; it’s a good word substituted for a bad one. It’s probably the oldest known euphemism in world language. I’d like to reclaim their good name. I’d like to reinstate bears in the UK. I’d like to have bears, not in enclosures, but roaming wild and I’d like to have fences to keep humans in, rather than to keep bears in, to keep bears safe from us.
Arkto. I say your name. I summon you. By the power of all names, by the gift of all language, I call thee. Arkto.