Tar baby

Posted by ESC on September 21, 2001

In Reply to: Tar Baby posted by Charlene Carpenter on September 21, 2001

: At a meeting recently, someone used the phrase "tar baby." I am interested in knowing its meaning and origin.

TAR BABY -- A sticky situation. "Something from which it is nearly impossible to extricate oneself. In Joel Chandler Harris' famous 'Uncle Remus' children's stories ( go to xroads.virginia.edu/ ~UG97/remus/tar-baby.html ), the tar baby is a doll covered with tar. Brer Rabbit comes by and speaks to it, but the tar baby doesn't answer; Brer Rabbit gets angry and hits the tar baby, and sticks to it. The more Brer Rabbit struggles to get free, the tighter he sticks to the tar baby. The term in use, by Richard T. Cooper in the 'Los Angeles Times,' April 21, 1996: 'Far from bestriding the Washington scene like a master or painting Clinton into corners, Dole last week looked a lot like the rabbit who wrestled with the tar baby.'." From "Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Allusions" by Elizabeth Webber and Mike Feinsilber (Merriam-Webster, Springfield, Mass., 1999).