Catch a tartar

Posted by Bruce Kahl on April 30, 2002

In Reply to: Catch a tartar posted by Jim on April 30, 2002

: A local library patron read an old newspaper article about his grandfather that used the phrase "catch a tartar". He didn't know what this phrase meant. I heard about his inquiry and found references to a tartar (an unexpectedly formidable foe, inhabitant of Tartare) and a listing of the phrase "catch a tartar", but nothing definite. Thanks in advance for any responses.

E. Cobham Brewer 1810-1897. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
Catch a Tartar.
The biter bit. Grose says an Irish soldier in the Imperial service, in a battle against the Turks, shouted to his comrade that he had caught a Tartar. "Bring him along, then," said his mate. "But he won't come," cried Paddy. "Then come along yourself," said his comrade. "Arrah!" replied Paddy, "I wish I could, but he won't let me." 1
"We are like the man who boasted of having caught a Tartar, when the fact was that the Tartar had caught him."-Cautions for the Times.
Tartar \Tar"tar\ (?), n. 1. [Per. Tātār, of Tartar origin.] A native or inhabitant of Tartary in Asia; a member of any one of numerous tribes, chiefly Moslem, of Turkish origin, inhabiting the Russian Europe; -- written also, more correctly but less usually, Tatar.

2. A person of a keen, irritable temper.

To catch a tartar, to lay hold of, or encounter, a person who proves too strong for the assailant. [Colloq.]
-- web1913