"tar baby" in HDAS (UNCLASSIFIED)

Mullins, Bill AMRDEC Bill.Mullins at US.ARMY.MIL
Fri Aug 5 17:15:59 UTC 2011

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: NONE

> On 8/4/2011 9:26 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>>> HDAS has several exx. of "tar baby" in the contemptuous sense,
>>> All after "Song  of the South."
>>> JL

Joel Chandler Harris started on the Uncle Remus stories in 1876 (per
Wikipedia), but there is in Newspaperarchive an 1873 telling of the tar
baby story, complete with dialect.  This antedates the OED (1881)
_The Cedar Rapids Times_ (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) January 16, 1873  Page 4
col 2
"Den Bu Rabbit draw off an' hit um one slap -- 'e han' fassen to de Tar
Baby face!"

_The Daily Memphis Avalanche_ (Memphis TN, NewsBank Early American
Newspapers) 12/27/1867 p. 1 col 1

"One of the Virginia conventionists, who wears a white choker is
compared by an irreverent correspondent to a tar baby in a cream pot."

Figurative use:
Petersburg Index-Appeal | Petersburg, Virginia | Tuesday, July 09, 1878
| Page 1 col 1 (newspaperarchive)
"Capt. W. says that he is like the rabbit in the nursery story, that he
has smacked a political tar baby to which he is stuck, is sticking, and
will continue to stick  beyond the power of the resurrectionist."

Macon [GA] Telegraph Feb 19 1889 p 3 col 2 (NewsBank Early American
"The young fellow had a regular tar baby of a memory.  It stuck to

Offensive use (OED has 1948)
_Omaha [NE] World Herald_ 2/25/1892 p 3 col 2 (NewsBank Early American
"Jay Joseph, a small lad who was with a crowd of urchins about his style
and size yesterday afternoon, was arrested for calling a man named
Wagner an ugly name. . .  It turned out that another boy had called the
man a tar baby, and that the person to whom this gentle appellation was
given was so enraged by it that he wanted to have the boy hung."

See also black boxer Sam Langford
which may be somewhat ambiguous in that getting stuck in a tar baby may
be something like fighting a particular style of boxer.

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: NONE

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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