Bull, (1) The male of animals belonging to the section Bovina of the family Bovidae (q.v.), particularly the uncastrated male of the domestic ox (Bos taurus). (See Cattle.) The word, which is found in M.E. as bole, bolle (cf. Ger. Bulle, and Dutch bul or bol), is also used of the males of other animals of large size, e.g. the elephant, whale, etc. The O.E. diminutive form bulluc, meaning originally a young bull, or bull calf, survives in bullock, now confined to a young castrated male ox kept for slaughter for beef.
On the London and New York stock exchanges "bull" and "bear" are correlative technical slang terms. A "bull" is one who "buys for a rise," i.e. he buys stocks or securities, grain or other commodities (which, however, he never intends to take up), in the hope that before the date on which he must take delivery he will be able to sell the stocks, etc., at a higher price, taking as a profit the difference between the buying and selling price. A "bear" is the reverse of a "bull." He is one who "sells for a fall," i.e. he sells stock, etc., which he does not actually possess, in the hope of buying it at a lower price before the time at which he has contracted to deliver (see Account; Stock Exchange). The word "bull," according to the New English Dictionary, was used in this sense as early as the beginning of the 18th century. The origin of the use is not known, though it is tempting to connect it with the fable of the frog and the bull.
The term "bull's eye" is applied to many circular objects, and particularly to the boss or protuberance left in the centre of a sheet of blown glass. This when cut off was formerly used for windows in small leaded panes. The French term oeil de boeuf is used of a circular window. Other circular objects to which the word is applied are the centre of a target or a shot that hits the central division of the target, a plano-convex lens in a microscope, a lantern with a convex glass in it, a thick circular piece of glass let into the deck or side of a ship, etc., for lighting the interior, a ring-shaped block grooved round the outer edge, and with a hole through the centre through which a rope can be passed, and also a small lurid cloud which in certain latitudes presages a hurricane.
(2) The use of the word "bull," for a verbal blunder, involving a contradiction in terms, is of doubtful origin. In this sense it is used with a possible punning reference to papal bulls in Milton's True Religion, "and whereas the Papist boasts himself to be a Roman Catholick, it is a mere contradiction, one of the Pope's Bulls, as if he should say a universal particular, a Catholick schismatick." Probably this use may be traced to a M.E. word bul, first found in the Cursor Mundi, c. 1300, in the sense of falsehood, trickery, deceit; the New English Dictionary compares an O.Fr. boul, boule or bole, in the same sense. Although modern associations connect this type of blunder with the Irish, possibly owing to the many famous "bulls" attributed to Sir Boyle Roche (q.v.), the early quotations show that in the 17th century, when the meaning now attached to the word begins, no special country was credited with them.
(3) Bulla (Lat for "bubble"), which gives us another "bull" in English, was the term used by the Romans for any boss or stud, such as those on doors, sword-belts, shields and boxes. It was applied, however, more particularly to an ornament, generally of gold, a round or heart-shaped box containing an amulet, worn suspended from the neck by children of noble birth until they assumed the toga virilis, when it was hung up and dedicated to the household gods. The custom of wearing the bulla, which was regarded as a charm against sickness and the evil eye, was of Etruscan origin. After the Second Punic War all children of free birth were permitted to wear it; but those who did not belong to a noble or wealthy family were satisfied with a bulla of leather. Its use was only permitted to grown-up men in the case of generals who celebrated a triumph. Young girls (probably till the time of their marriage), and even favourite animals, also wore it (see Ficoroni, La Bolla d' Oro, 1732; Yates, Archaeological Journal, vi., 1849; viii., 1851). In ecclesiastical and medieval Latin, bulla denotes the seal of oval or circular form, bearing the name and generally the image of its owner, which was attached to official documents.
A metal was used instead of wax in the warm countries of southern Europe. The best-known instances are the papal bullae, which have given their name to the documents (bulls) to which they are attached. (See Diplomatic; Seals; Curia Romana; Golden Bull.)