World O’ Words: Real bearcat! Real donnybrook! Heyrube!

Congratulations to the College of the Rockies Avalanche, Women’s and Men’s squads, for their victories this weekend past over the Columbia Bible College Bearcats.

“Went to the volleyball this weekend — real bearcat, I tell ya!”

Say what? How did it go? Real bearcat!

My admittedly cursory research does not tell me where the CBC Bearcats came up with their nickname, but, with all respect to the Avalanche, Bearcat is a very cool nickname indeed. That’s because it’s a very cool word, full of multiple meanings and imagery — not least because … well, can you imagine anything zanier than crossing a bear with a cat?

A bearcat is really a small- to medium-sized mammal — a binturong, or a type of civet common to southeast Asia, the most primitive of all the feliform carnivora. And I’ll be d—d if they don’t indeed look like a cross between a bear and a cat, though they are more catlike than bearlike, disappointingly.

A bearcat is also a famous car — the Stutz Bearcat, an American sports car from around the time of the First World War. Its low weight, balance and powerful 60-horsepower “straight four” made it an excellent racer. I’d love to bomb around downtown Cranbrook in one on a sunny day.

“Bearcat,” is also a slang superlative term about as old as the Stutz Bearcat, and it was used to describe of woman of spirit — a “firecracker.”

“Gloria went all bearcat down at the pool hall — she ran the table then broke the cue over her knee.”

Although “bearcat” in this sense is of a 1920s vintage, I remember it being used by my father’s generation to mean things were going really well. Maybe the precise meaning of the term shifted shape over the course of a generation.

“How’s it going out in the field with your sickle?”

“Real bearcat! Almost got that acre scythed down!”

Back in the day, where I come from anyway, they also used to say “real donnybrook!” as well as “real bearcat!”

“How did it go in court for you today?”

“Real donnybrook! They threw my case out!”

A donnybrook is, of course, an Irish word for a brawl. It’s the kind of word that makes fighting sound like a lot of fun, instead of, for example, “a bloody beating where I got my jaw broken.”

Some people are fond of fighting, and even more so of brawls — of donnybrooks — where multiple people are brawling away. For the record, I am not one of those people at all.

A donnybrook is different from a “heyrube” — another great term from the first half of the last century, which survives in the witticisms of sports journalists writing or talking about hockey. A heyrube is another word for a brawl, this of American extraction, and it comes from circus days.

Back when the circus travelled from town to town, unpleasant situations would often arise where the local yokels — the local rubes — would pick fights with the carnies (or vice versa). Carnies, then as now, would stick up for each other — if they saw a fight break out between one of their mates and one of the local rubes, they would rush to join in — presumably shouting “Hey, rube!” in anger as they went. So that word also has entered the lexicon as a synonym for a donnybrook, a fracas, a brouhaha — though you can sometimes say “rhubarb,” instead of “heyrube.”

“Honey, did I hear you were involved in some kind of rhubarb down at the bar last night.”

“Of course not, Dear! I came home early (you were already asleep!).”

“But how did you get that black eye?” etc …

In spite of the deplorable literal situations these words describe (except for “bearcat”) — this is to say, humans inflicting violence on each other — they are wonderfully colourful words to describe how things are going. We must use words like these more often when we were are asked how things are going, instead of “pretty good,” or pretty, pretty good,” or “pretty, pretty, pretty good.” When someone asks you how it’s going, and you say “pretty good,” or “pretty, pretty good,” really, it just sounds like you’re going through the conversational motions.

But when someone asks you how it’s going, and you respond “Re-e-e-e-e-el Bearcat!” they know you are sincere and enthusiastic.

So on that note I wish all of the Townsman readers a real Bearcat of a day!

And back to the Avalanche — the COTR women’s and men’s volleyball squads play their last home match of 2018 this weekend, versus the Camosun College Chargers.

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