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The Semantics of Bear Attacks
A few weekends ago on a Friday night, my wife and I were up way past our bedtimes, eating at a Denny’s restaurant at 4:00 AM with some friends. For reasons that I don’t quite remember, the conversation devolved into a lively, though pointless debate about the semantics of what it means to be “eaten by a bear”. It was one of those giddy, delirious discussions that only seems worthwhile when you’re too tired to know any better. During the course of the conversation, my wife and I discovered that we each had very different opinions on the subject. We continue to argue about it to this day.
So here’s the question: How much of a human corpse has to have been consumed in order for it to be considered “eaten” by a bear? The phrase “eaten by a bear” would seem relatively straightforward, but there is a lot of nuance underlying the deceptive simplicity.
To my mind, being “eaten” by an animal means that a significant majority of your dead body goes missing once the animal is through. If a bear were to attack you, kill you, and then rip off one of your arms as a snack, I would only consider that a mauling — not an act of consumption. Even if both of your arms and legs went missing, that would still leave behind your torso and head, which are far more significant than the appendages. If your torso and head remain intact, then that constitutes a “significant presence”, and I would not consider your body “eaten” by a bear.
My wife, of course, takes an alternate viewpoint. She believes that the term “eaten” should not be subject to so much equivocation. If a bear eats any portion of your body — even something as small as a fingernail — then you have technically been eaten by a bear. She reasons by analogy that when you eat a steak, only a portion of a cow is eaten, but conventional wisdom would suggest that you have “eaten cow”.
Naturally, my wife and I have struck upon a fundamental disagreement. Every few days, the topic will come back up for discussion, and we start running in circles trying to poke holes in each other’s arguments. Here’s a taste of what it sounded like last night.
Diana: So the torso and head need to be disturbed before you would even consider the possibility that the body has been eaten?
Kevin: Yes, absolutely. The torso and head make up the “essence” of who a person is. A person can lose his arms and legs in life, but still remain alive with his torso and head. Following that line of reasoning, it takes more than just missing arms and legs to qualify a body as “eaten by a bear”.
Diana: Then how much of your torso and head need to be missing?
Kevin: It’s a simple metric. If the head remains, then fifty percent of the torso needs to be missing before I would consider the body “eaten”. On the other hand, if the head is missing, then only twenty-five percent of the body needs to be missing — and that includes either the torso or the appendages.
Diana: Wait, that’s bullshit. You said the arms and legs aren’t important.
Kevin: They usually aren’t. But then again, if the head goes missing, and you also notice that the legs were nibbled off, then that should be a red flag telling you, “Hey, the shit that went down here was no accident, because the bear was aiming to eat a meal.” Sometimes heads go missing during a mauling. But if the head goes missing, and you also can’t find the legs, then that body was consumed.
Diana: Now we have to think about the bear’s intent? Your rules are growing way too complicated.
Kevin: Okay, when you put it like that, maybe I shouldn’t emphasize the importance of bear intent.
Diana: What if the bear starts eating you, but then gets interrupted and runs away? It meant to eat you, but it just missed its opportunity. Didn’t it eat you because it meant to eat you?
Kevin: Fine, let’s back away from bear intent. Intent doesn’t matter so much as the end result. Your body is either eaten or not. It’s a fairly binary thing except for on the fringes.
Diana: Exactly. Your body is either “eaten” or “not eaten”. If any portion of your body is eaten, then you have been eaten. You don’t have to be alive or dead. All that matters is that a part of you has been eaten.
Kevin: Wait, death is a major component of being eaten. Without death, there is no “eaten”.
Diana: Look. Let’s say I chopped off a cow’s ass, but then gave it medical attention so that the cow could live a long, ass-less life. If I made burgers out of that cow’s ass and ate them, then that cow has been eaten. I have “eaten” a cow. The cow has been “eaten”.
Kevin: I disagree with your literal use of the word “eaten”. The phrase “eaten by a bear” is a term of art. It contains a colloquial, connotative implication that a significant portion of a dead body has disappeared down the bear’s pie hole.
Diana: You’re getting too caught up on semantics.
Kevin: This entire argument has been about semantics.
Diana: This entire argument has been about you being wrong.
Kevin: At least I don’t eat cow’s ass.
Diana: I think we’re done here.
Kevin: Good talk, Diana. I think we really accomplished something here. Let’s do this again in two days when you forget about how wrong you are.
Diana: Screw you.
For the record, I probably do eat cow’s ass, and I just don’t know it. I mean, who the hell knows where burgers come from? Anyhow, Diana is dead wrong. Like, “eaten by a bear” dead wrong. If you’ve been paying attention, then you’d know that’s the worst kind of wrong there is to be.
30 Minus 2 Days of Writing (2014)
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