Submitted by Julie Kay (Bronnitsy - Russia)
Julie, I have never heard the expression ‘bear and smile,’ but I assume that it is a variation of the common expression GRIN AND BEAR IT meaning put up with adversity with good humor, or alternatively deal with one’s pain or misfortune in a stoical manner. The usual modern sense of ‘grin,’ broad smile’ was less sinister than its earlier sense when it, along with its obsolete cognate ‘girn,’ meant ‘an act of showing the teeth’ or ‘a snarl.’ From the mid-17th to mid-18th century, a ‘grin’ was generally used derogatorily or in unfavorable contrast to a cheerful ‘smile.’ The sense of ‘grin’ in ‘grin and bear it’ retains the earlier associations with showing one’s teeth in a grimace of pain or anger.
The expression originated as ‘grin and abide’ where ‘abide’ implies put up with, tolerate. It so appears in Erasmus Darwin’s ‘Zoonomia’ (1794), “We have a proverb where no help could be had in pain, ‘to grin and abide,’” so it presumably was a well-known saying by then. A few years earlier W. Hickey wrote in his ‘Memoirs’ (1775), “I recommend you to grin and bear it (an expression used by sailors after a long spell of bad weather).” It has been a cliché for about a hundred years, well known enough for poet Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911) to pun on it in his ‘The Firm of Grin and Barrett’ (“Never yet has any panic scared the firm of Grin and Barrett”). A good example of its usage would be “It was no fun getting sick while on my vacation, and all I could do was grin and bear it.”
(Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés, Oxford Dictionary of Idioms)
Ken G – May 21, 2004