#HomophoneHell: Bear and Bare

I see this error so often in both edited and unedited work, I have to write about it. As usual, it’s something I never had trouble with, so I have problems understanding why it’s so hard to get it right. I’m mean like that. However, I’ll do my best to explain. I’m helpful like that, too.

The issue isn’t with bear as a noun. I never see that misused. The issue is with bear as a verb. “The right to keep and bear arms” as stated in the second amendment to the Bill of Rights is probably one of the most famous usages in AmE. There, it means “carry” or “use.” (I’m not looking this up; I find that providing my own words usually helps people more than quoting dictionaries. If you want to look it up, I’m sure you know how to go about that.) Bear can also mean “endure” or “withstand,” as in “It’s more than I can bear.” (“I can’t take it anymore.”)

Women bear (carry and birth, “birth” used as a verb here) children. We all have our burdens to bear (carry, endure). Sometimes they’re crosses. Sometimes they’re not.

Bare has nothing to do with carrying or enduring, and a lot to do with being uncovered or revealed. “The wolf bared its teeth.” (They were hidden by its lips, but it snarled, pulling its lips back, and thereby bared them.) A sleeveless shirt leaves one’s arms bare (revealed, naked, uncovered). Ground might be bare (naked in the sense of there being no vegetation whatsoever). Bare can also mean minimum (as in the repetitive phrase “bare minimum” or as in “the bare necessities,” made famous by Baloo the Bear in the Disney animated version of “The Jungle Book” — a bear, singing about bare … ). Then there’s “lay bare,” to expose. There’s a lot of that going on in this election year. Threadbare fabric has been worn thin.

So — if you’re enduring something, you’re bearing it. (Perhaps badly, but even so, you’re bearing it.) If you’re carrying something, you’re bearing it. If you’ve taken off a garment, you might be baring part of your body. If you’re having an emotional moment, you could be said to “bare your soul” — to expose it to others.

Bear the standard of proper usage high, my readers. Lay bare the misunderstandings that lead to homophone errors!


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