tar > paint > taint ?

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Thu Feb 9 19:21:37 UTC 2006

FWIW, a minor annotation. There are still places where literal tarring
is an everyday occurrence. In, for example, St. Louis, tar is commonly
used to weather-proof the roofs of houses and other buildings. The
roofers have small wheeled furnaces resembling a miniature locomotive
firebox that they use to keep the tar liquid while they work.
Unfortunately, the odor of molten tar is not a pleasant one.

BTW, I've never understood how a person could go through a
tarring-and-feathering without suffering serious bodily harm or even
death.Yet I've never even heard of anyone being permanently injured,
let alone killed, by it.


On 2/9/06, Arnold M. Zwicky <zwicky at csli.stanford.edu> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Arnold M. Zwicky" <zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU>
> Subject:      tar > paint > taint ?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> from this morning's NPR Morning Edition, spoken by Denise Slavin,
> president of the National Association of Immigration Judges:
> Unfortunately, there may be problems with a few judges, I don't think
> we should all be tainted with the same brush.
> -----
> well, the original idiom here is "tar with the same brush" (often in
> the passive), and that's what you find in idiom dictionaries.  on the
> web, "tar" beats out "taint" all hollow (in raw google webhits as of
> this morning):
>    tarred with the same brush: 59,500
>    tainted with the same brush: 313
>    tar them all with the same brush: 1,760
>    taint them all with the same brush: 28
> is this just a substitution blend, with the more literal "taint"
> occasionally replacing the metaphorical "tar" in the idiom "tar with
> the same brush"?  possibly, but there's a third variant attested
> (with "paint"), and it's intermediate in frequency between "tar" and
> "taint" (roughly half as frequent as "tar" and hugely more frequent
> than "taint"):
>    painted with the same brush: 21,300
>    paint them all with the same brush: 800
> now we have a plausible intermediate stage between "tar" and
> "taint":  under the influence of "brush" in the original idiom,
> "paint" replaces "tar" (well, people are vastly more familiar with
> painting with brushes than they are with tarring things with brushes,
> so "paint" is an improvement), and then the negative content of the
> idiom is reinforced by replacing the relatively neutral verb "paint"
> by the decidedly negative (and phonologically very similar) verb
> "taint".
> the first of these steps is just the familiar playing of variations
> on idioms.  Riehemann's 2001 dissertation notes that "throw s.o. to
> the [large carnivorous animals]" comes in two canonical versions,
> with "wolves" and "lions" (wolves over lions about 3 to 1), but is
> also attested, in her corpus, with "tigers", "sharks", and "dogs".
> there are many similar examples.
> the second step might be a substitution blend.  or just a creative
> improvement of "paint with the same brush".
> arnold (zwicky at csli.stanford.edu)
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list