from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A inextricable situation or difficult and pressing problem that often grows worse as one tries to deal with it.
  • noun Offensive Slang Used as a disparaging term for a black person, especially a dark-skinned black child.


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[After “Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby,” an Uncle Remus story by Joel Chandler Harris in which Brer Fox makes a doll out of tar and Brer Rabbit gets stuck in it when he punches it after it does not return his greeting.]


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  • definition: something from which it is nearly impossible to extricate oneself

    January 1, 2007

  • racially derogatory term - ugh

    June 26, 2007

  • I just have to hope the cat in question does not care.

    June 26, 2007

  • Tar-Baby was a doll made of tar and turpentine, used to entrap Br'er Rabbit in the second of the Uncle Remus stories. The more that Br'er Rabbit fought the Tar-Baby, the more entangled he became. In contemporary usage, a tar baby refers to any "sticky situation" that is only aggravated by efforts to solve it.


    February 18, 2008

  • In tiddlywinks, "a pile under your own control, but into which your winks seem to be sucked entirely inadvertently. A tactical nightmare."

    August 27, 2008

  • Something to be circumvented: a sticky situation or problem from which it is almost impossible to escape, which proves that it is entirely possible to end a definition of tar baby without using a preposition.

    May 8, 2013