Beloved and time honored children’s character Winnie the Pooh is, in fact, a bear. He lives in the woods, he eats honey, he loves to sleep, he looks like a bear…all of the signs are there.
So why, then, is he referred to as “the pooh?” And what exactly IS a pooh, anyway?
I have to confess that I never really thought too much about it until someone asked me that question, and then, well, I just had to know the answer.
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To find it we have to travel way back in time to the 1920s when A.A. Milne first published his stories about the Hundred-Acre Wood
When the stories were very first written, Winnie wasn’t Winnie at all – in the original drafts he was Edward Bear. Then, on a visit to the London Zoo, Milne encountered a very friendly black bear who had been named after Winnipeg, Canada.
And thus, Winnie came into being.
But what is Pooh?
Well, Pooh referred originally to a swan.
In the book When We Were Very Young, Milne included a poem explaining how Christopher Robin would feed the swan in the mornings – a swan called “Pooh,” which is “a very fine name for a swan, because if you call him and he doesn’t come (which is a thing swans are good at), then you can pretend that you were just saying ‘Pooh!’ to show him how little you wanted him.”
Then the swan character was shown the door and Edward was renamed; Winnie the Pooh was born.
If that doesn’t satisfy you, A.A. Milne wrote in the first chapter of the first Winnie the Pooh book, “But his arms were so stiff …they stayed up straight into the air for more than a week, and whenever a fly came and settled on his nose he had to blow it off. And I think – but I am not sure – that that is why he is always called Pooh.”
So there’s that too.
The reasoning, of course, doesn’t matter all that much because the name stuck. Winnie the Pooh – or just Pooh – became an icon for children all over the world, and the rest, as they say, is history.
He even has his own holiday (Winnie the Pooh Day is January 18th, if you care to celebrate).
However he came by his name, and however you came to find him, there’s almost no chance you don’t love him – and I would never “pooh”a Winnie the Pooh date with my kids.
Or myself, to be honest.