A bull is, as you may know, the male of a cow and it is also a male elephant or moose. In religion, a bull is a document issued by the pope. Unrelatedly, and as a slang term, bull is a synonym for ‘lies’ or ‘exaggerations’ and, in US English, if you bull someone, it means that you try to impress them by telling lies.
- There is a bull in the field with the cows.
- We saw a herd of elephants while we were on safari and the bull was huge.
- Pope Pius V issued a bull excommunicating Queen Elizabeth I of England.
- That’s bull! You never did that!
- Don’t try to bull me; I can see through your lies!
Words often used with bull
bull in a china shop: a clumsy or tactless person. Example: “John would be useless as a diplomat; he’s like a bull in a china shop when it comes to negotiating.”
take the bull by the horns: do something difficult or unpleasant. Example: “Amber knew she would have to talk to the boss about changing her working hours sooner or later, so she decided to take the bull by the horns and asked for a meeting that afternoon.”
shoot the bull (US): talk aimlessly. Example: “The old men just sat around in the bar every day, shooting the bull.”
like a red rag to a bull: certain to annoy someone. Example: “You know how neat your father is—dropping your coat and bag on the floor when you come in from school is like a red rag to a bull with him!”
A castrated bull is called a “bullock” in UK English and a “steer” or “ox” in US English, where “bullock” just means a young bull.
Did you know?
In the world of finance, a bull is someone who believes that stock prices will increase. The opposite, someone who thinks prices will decrease, is called a bear. Bull and bear can also be used as adjectives—a bull market is a rising market and a bear market is a falling one.
bully (noun, verb)
Bull, meaning a ‘male bovine animal,’ dates back to the mid-12th century. The Middle English bule likely evolved from the Old English term bula, which meant ‘bull’ or ‘bullock,’ but it may also have come from the Old Norse buli, with the same meaning (this is why linguists hesitate to state that it dates back to before the year 900, as the Old English noun does). Both possible origin words come from the Proto-Germanic bullon, though again, there is controversy as to where that term originated. Some believe it is a variation on a Proto-Germanic verb stem meaning ‘to roar’ (and may also be the origin for the English word boulder), while others suggest the Proto-Indo-European root bhel- (to blow or swell).