The Semantics of Bear Attacks

February 2, 2014 (Sun)



30 Minus 2 Days of Writing (2014)
Day 2: “It was no accident”

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)
A painful exercise in forced inspiration brought to you by
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  1. Boom Boom          
    February 2, 2014 at 10:45 am Reply

    I think intent is a major factor. If the bear just happens to get a finger or two while eating the same berries you're trying to pick, (ala "Blueberries for Sal,") it does not count.

    P.S. I would love to go out to dinner with the two of you... what an intellectually stimulating conversation. No accident about that!

    • KZ          
      February 8, 2014 at 12:32 am Reply

      I'm still not convinced about bear intent. I kind of regret that I was the one who initially mentioned it as a criteria, actually.

      Dinner's on me and Diana if we ever make this happen, Boom Boom. Just don't get us started on anything contentious, or we'll be there all night.

      • Diana Mueller          
        February 8, 2014 at 12:40 am

        Bear intent is super important. Maybe the bear had no intention of touching you but you shot his wife or something and he just attacked. During this attack where he's ripping your body to pieces with his teeth, bits of you were accidentally ingested. Nope,I would say you were mauled at that point. Bear intent is essential.

      • KZ          
        February 8, 2014 at 12:54 am

        If you say so, Diana. I guess the next time I'm being attacked by a bear, I'll ask him to fill out a survey to gain an understanding of his true motivations, and to see how I can better serve him as a victim and prey.

  2. Tami Von Zalez          
    February 2, 2014 at 11:23 am Reply

    Up in my neck of the woods, if a bear takes a bite out of you, you've been "et."

    • KZ          
      February 8, 2014 at 12:34 am Reply

      Simple and straightforward. And yet there's something about that line of reasoning that doesn't sit well with me.

  3. ReformingGeek          
    February 2, 2014 at 11:49 am Reply

    I am no longer hungry for any part of any animal. If the bear killed me as he was snacking on any part of my body, I've been eaten by a bear. Ugh.

    • KZ          
      February 8, 2014 at 12:36 am Reply

      If only more bears were strictly vegetarian. We'd have much thinner bears, and the world would be a safer place for campers.

  4. Ziva          
    February 2, 2014 at 12:51 pm Reply

    I have a problem. See, technically, I agree with you 100%, but I really think us women folk should stick together, so I'm going to go ahead and say that Diana is right here. Sorry, KZ.

    • KZ          
      February 8, 2014 at 12:37 am Reply

      I accept your agreement, though I begrudge your loyalty to womankind.

  5. dufus          
    February 2, 2014 at 12:53 pm Reply

    Boy I can;t wait for Part II. Does a bear shit in the woods?

    • KZ          
      February 8, 2014 at 12:35 am Reply

      Haha all in due time, Dufus.

  6. laughingmom          
    February 2, 2014 at 1:23 pm Reply

    I woud tak sdes bt my rm ws jus ripd ff by a bar nd im no ood at ypin wth ust ne hnd.

    • KZ          
      February 8, 2014 at 12:38 am Reply

      I love this comment. I wish I had an upvote function in my comments section.

  7. Frank Lee Meidere          
    February 2, 2014 at 1:42 pm Reply

    Damn but this is good. And now I'm going to be trying to figure this out for the rest of my day/life.

    One phrase that always confuses me is "left for dead." To me it indicates that the person doing the leaving believed the person being left was dead -- but that it might not necessarily be the case. Most people I know, however, think that it's obvious the phrase means the person left is dead. This also appears to be the most common use in journalism. But surely in that case they should just say, "left dead."

    • KZ          
      February 8, 2014 at 12:42 am Reply

      I appreciate it, Frank. Now that you mention it, "left for dead" really does have a strange element of ambiguity to it. I always understood the phrase to mean that somebody was left behind -- whether alive or dead -- and was assumed dead because there was no reasonable hope of survival.

  8. Linda          
    February 2, 2014 at 2:37 pm Reply

    I have to say that I think it would take more than a missing appendage to qualify as having been eaten by a bear. However, I'm not going to go find a bear to do further research on the subject.

    • KZ          
      February 8, 2014 at 12:43 am Reply

      Thank you! I'll take this as agreement with my point of view.

  9. MsDarkstar          
    February 2, 2014 at 3:03 pm Reply

    This whole conversation was very Bloggess v. Victor! Kudos!

    • KZ          
      February 8, 2014 at 12:43 am Reply


  10. Diana Mueller          
    February 2, 2014 at 6:40 pm Reply

    I'm sorry but if I was a cannibal and I ate a human liver for dinner, I'll say I ate a person, not that I mauled one. Even the word cannibal means you eat people. It doesn't say you have to eat XX% of a person to be considered cannibal or that would be one hell of a loophole people could exploit. If someone eats just the liver, they are a freaking cannibal. Just as if the bear eats a human liver, the mother fucker just ate a goddamn person. This argument is over and you lost!

    • KZ          
      February 8, 2014 at 12:45 am Reply

      Well, madam cannibal, it sounds to me that you only partially ate a person. That person has been eaten in part, but has not been "eaten" by a cannibal since the majority of body seems to still remain. My criteria still hold strong.

      In your face.

  11. Nicky          
    February 2, 2014 at 6:48 pm Reply

    I think, KZ, that if YOU were in the forest and a bear ripped off YOUR arm and ate it as a snack, you would totally say you had just been eaten by a bear. Well, you would totally say it if you were still alive but you wouldn't be still alive because you would have just been EATEN BY A BEAR! The moral of the story, don't argue with Diana. :-)

    • KZ          
      February 2, 2014 at 9:47 pm Reply

      Arguing with Diana is part of what makes living with her tolerable. Trust me on this one.

      Anyhow, you are entitled to your own opinion, regardless of how wrong they are.

  12. Katherine          
    February 2, 2014 at 7:03 pm Reply

    Funny... I think "eaten by a bear" is that your body is EATEN! BUT...I bet if a man had ONLY his private part eaten... and he lived... he would say, "I was eaten by a bear!" I guess it is all about WHAT part is eaten. But overall, to me, eaten by a bear means the whole thing. But I thought bears were berry and nut eaters!

    • KZ          
      February 8, 2014 at 12:46 am Reply

      As tragic as it would be to have your junk chewed off by a bear, I personally would just consider that a mauling...a tragic, tragic, mauling. Pardon me while I cross my legs and turn away now.

  13. injaynesworld          
    February 2, 2014 at 7:54 pm Reply

    I'm horribly confused now. And hungry.

    • KZ          
      February 8, 2014 at 12:47 am Reply

      I consider that a result!

  14. Malisa          
    February 5, 2014 at 1:50 pm Reply

    I'm totally with you on this, KZ. In order to use the "eaten by a bear" phrase, the bear needs to be finishing up the last bits of flesh, picking his teeth with a bone and licking his fingers. Otherwise, "mauled" should be used. You are right. She is wrong. Sorry, Diana.

    Oh, by the way, I hope you and Diana never argue about anything life changing. You both seemed way too intent to win arguments. :)

    • KZ          
      February 8, 2014 at 12:51 am Reply

      It's so gratifying to have you in my corner, Malisa. I'm glad there are some people around here who are on the level.

      And I'd say both Diana and I display just the right amount of intensity and enthusiasm for winning ridiculous arguments. It's part of what keeps us going as a married couple.

  15. P.J.          
    February 12, 2014 at 11:45 am Reply

    Here's what I know -- it doesn't matter what you call it -- I'd prefer not to be eaten or mauled by a bear. I'd rather not even think about it. Let the bear eat somebody else.

    • Diana Mueller          
      February 12, 2014 at 12:42 pm Reply

      Yeah, like Kevin, since he's totally wrong.

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