Italian Word of the Day: Orso (bear)

The word for bear in Italian is orso and it derives from the Latin word ursus.

IPA: /ˈ

Today only eight species of bear are still in existence:

  • orso polare / bianco (polar bear)
  • orso bruno (brown bear)
  • orso del bambù / panda gigante (giant panda)
  • orso nero / baribal (North American black bear)
  • orso dal collare / orso tibetano (Asian black bear)
  • orso dagli occhiali (speckled bear)
  • orso giocoliere (sloth bear)
  • orso malese (sun bear)
close-up of a brown bear
Un orso bruno – A brown bear

Bears – like humans – tend to be omnivorous (onnivoro) with the only exceptions being the panda gigante which feeds almost exclusively on bamboo, and the orso polare which is mostly carnivorous (carnivoro).

Typically solitary animals, they are adept runners, climbers and swimmers and use caves (caverne) and logs (tronchi) as their dens (tane). Most species hibernate (andare in letargo) during the winter for up to 100 days.

Sulle Alpi, l’orso bruno va in letargo per non più di 4 mesi.

In the Alps, the brown bear hibernates for no longer than 4 months.

The diminutives orsetto and orsacchiotto literally mean small bear and may be used to refer to a bear cub or a teddy bear in Italian. Another possible name for bear cub is cucciolo di orso whereas a teddy bear may also be called an orso di peluche.

teddy bear on a bench
Un orsacchiotto = A teddy bear

Figuratively speaking, an orso is a grumpy, unsociable person who dislikes the company of other people. This is where the expressions fare l’orso and essere un orso (to be unsociable) come from.

Dai, non fare l’orso. Vieni a ballare con noi!

Come on, don’t be so unsociable. Come and dance with us!

In the expressions camminare come un orso (to walk like a bear) and ballare come un orso (to dance like a bear), it is also a simile for someone who moves in an awkward and ungraceful manner.

Expressions featuring ‘orso’

Invitare l’orso alle pere

Literal translation: to invite the bear to the pears
English meaning: to offer someone an opportunity they’ve been waiting for

Pelare l’orso

Literal translation: to skin a bear
English meaning: to face a difficult or impossible task

Vendere la pelle dell’orso prima di averlo ucciso

Literal translation: to sell the bear’s skin before killing it
English meaning: to count one’s chickens before they’ve hatched

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