A bear market refers to a downturn in the market, one where stock prices are falling. In investing if you expect prices to fall you will be referred to as “bearish”.
It has been argued the term could be related to bearskin sellers of days gone by – the “bearskin jobber” – and the phrases “don’t sell the bear skin before you’ve caught the bear” or “to sell the bearskin”.
In the 1700s “bearskin jobbers” were middlemen who sold bearskins before they had received them – speculating on the future purchase price in hope that it would drop and they could profit on the difference.
Today we call this “short selling”.