tar baby

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See also: tarbaby


English Wikipedia has an article on:
Tar-Baby holding Brer Rabbit by all his legs and his head


Referring to a doll made of tar and turpentine to entrap Br'er Rabbit in one of Joel Chandler Harris's Uncle Remus stories, published in 1881, from earlier African American folklore, from earlier African (e.g. Kongo) folklore, influenced in America by similar stories from various unrelated Native American tribes, such as the Cherokee, Alabama, Koasati, and Apache.[1][2] (Similar stories are found throughout the world,[3] e.g. among the Mixtec[4] and Zapotec.[5])


tar baby (plural tar babies)

  1. (chiefly US) A difficult, abstract problem that worsens as one attempts to handle it; a "sticky" situation, especially one where attempts to make it better only make it worse.
    • 2006, Mitt Romney, quoted in "Romney apologizes for calling Big Dig 'tar baby'", July 31, 2006, WISTV.com
      Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is apologizing for referring to the troubled Big Dig construction project as a "tar baby." / Romney made the comment during a speech at a fund-raiser with Iowa Republicans on Saturday. Romney told the crowd "The best thing politically would be to stay as far away from that tar baby as I can."
    • 2001, Bobby Delaughter, Never Too Late: A Prosecutor's Story of Justice in the Medgar Evars Case, page 75:
      If Dees had indicated any willingness to personally pursue the case, Ed would've immediately had him appointed as a special prosecutor and turned this tar baby of a case over to him on the spot.
  2. (derogatory, ethnic slur) A black person.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jonathan Brennan, When Brer Rabbit Meets Coyote: African-Native American Literature (2003), pages 72, 107-109, 134
  2. ^ Richard Erdoes, Alfonso Ortiz, eds, American Indian Myths and Legends (1984), pp. 359–361
  3. ^ Enrique Margery: "The Tar-Baby Motif", in the Latin American Indian Literatures Journal, volume 6 (1990), p. 9
  4. ^ Anne Dyk, ed., "Tarbaby", in Mixteco texts (1959), pp. 33–44, (Linguistic Series 3, SIL)
  5. ^ Carol Stubblefield, Morris Stubblefield, compilers, "Rabbit and Coyote", in Mitla Zapotec texts (1994), pp. 61–102, (Folklore texts in Mexican Indian languages no. 3, Amerindian Series 12, SIL)