Wood on Words: No bull - there's a lot of cattle words.

On Wall Street, a "bull" is an optimist, an investor who expects things to get better. And in the world of stocks, a bull isn't necessarily male.


In the world of livestock, a bull can't be anything else.


In most other venues, a person called a bull would be expected to be physically imposing and strong. Throw in a bad attitude, and you have a "bully."


That aggressive nature is reflected in "bulldoze," used informally as a verb to mean "intimidate"; "bully boy," an Americanism for "hired ruffian"; and in the current interpretation of "bully pulpit" as "a position of power and influence used to aggressively promote one's own cause." The presidency of the United States has traditionally been considered the burliest bully pulpit.


However, the president who originated -- or at least popularized -- the term, Theodore Roosevelt, was using "bully" in the sense of "fine; very good." Of course, he was a teddy bear.


A "bullheaded" person is one who is "blindly stubborn; headstrong." Such a person might be willing to try to "take the bull by the horns" -- a wonderful image for "to deal boldly with a danger or difficulty."


And here's hoping your precious property is never within range of "a bull in a china shop."


Influenced by the slang uses of "bull" as a verb for "to bluff" or "talk foolishly," as well as a certain "bull" term for "nonsense," we have the informal "bull session" for "an informal discussion or conversation among a small group," and the slang "shoot the bull" for "to talk idly."


Adult males of many other types of animals are called bulls, and "bull" has attached itself to numerous critters' names as well: "bullbat," "bulldog," "bullfinch," "bullfrog," "bullhead," "bull mastiff," "bullsnake" and "bull terrier."


Bull also can be a slang term for a policeman or a detective, who might occasionally use a "bullhorn" or tend to prisoners in a "bullpen."


A bullpen is also the place where relief pitchers warm up before entering a baseball game, and what baseball fan doesn't like the movie "Bull Durham"?


Shooting at targets has been around so long that "the exact achievement" of any goal is called a "bull's-eye."


Besides "bull," a couple of other terms answered the cattle call for this column.


Particularly brawny men can be called "beefy," and the informal "beefcake" refers to photographs or videos showcasing such physical features. (Similar depictions of women are called "cheesecake.")


We also use the informal "beef up" to mean "strengthen."


The term "beefeater" for a red-clad guard at the Tower of London is probably tied into the old notion that people who consumed beef typically appeared to be large, well-fed and red-faced.


The slang use of "beef" as "a complaint" brings to mind the "where's the beef?" ad campaign, in which a female customer's plea for larger hamburgers was actually a beef about not enough beef.


From the baby cow we adopt "calf" as an informal term for "an awkward or silly youth" and "calf love," which is synonymous with "puppy love."


"A large piece of ice broken off from an iceberg or coast glacier" also is called a "calf." So is "the fleshy back part of the leg below the knee," where I sometimes get a "charley horse."


Still to come: Pigs and sheep and goats, oh, my!


Barry Wood is a senior copy editor for the Register Star. Contact him at bwood@rrstar.com or write to Wood on Words, Rockford Register Star, 99 E. State St., Rockford, IL 61104.