from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun A cold infusion of tar, formerly a favorite remedy for many chronic affections, especially of the lungs.
  • noun The tarry ammoniacal water obtained in the process of gas-manufacture.


Sorry, no etymologies found.


  • Because phrenology and tar-water seem so far-fetched, we may not easily recognize the utopian potential to which they point and the critical posture they assume in relation to the "masculine" domain of medical science.

    Feminist Utopianism and Female Sexuality in Joanna Baillie’s Comedies

  • Bishop George Berkeley, for example, in his 1744 utopian treatise, Siris, delineates his vision of a world cured of imperfections by tar-water.

    Feminist Utopianism and Female Sexuality in Joanna Baillie’s Comedies

  • Like tar-water and phrenology, enthusiasm or mesmerism here functions as feminist utopian thought by offering what Sargisson call alternative “unruly thinking” (Contemporary 128) seeking to unsettle “scientific” paradigms.

    Feminist Utopianism and Female Sexuality in Joanna Baillie’s Comedies

  • While Baillie's own medical knowledge may question the legitimacy of phrenology as science, her satire of it in The Match may, like Berkeley's tar-water, function metaphorically as utopianism.

    Feminist Utopianism and Female Sexuality in Joanna Baillie’s Comedies

  • Another: - Boiling the shavings of lotus with vinegar (the vinegar should be white); then mix the lees of oil and raw tar-water, and use it as a liniment or wash, and bandage above.

    On Ulcers

  • Miss Edgeworth, who suffered from her eyes, recalls how Mr. Day used to bring the dose, the horrible tar-water, every morning with a ‘Drink this, Miss Maria!’ and how she dared not resist, though she thought she saw something of kindness and pity beneath all his apparent severity.

    Castle Rackrent

  • This is part of the general drift of the work: from the properties of tar-water to the properties of mechanical causes to cosmic operations the world soul to minds to the divine mind to the Trinity.

    Berkeley, Laws of Nature, and Occasionalism

  • In any case, I knew I had to post about it when I came across the comment on Berkeley's interest in tar-water. posted by Brandon | 12:02 PM

    Spat Among the Anti-Materialists

  • Making matter more potent than Mind, when the storms of disease beat against Bishop Berkeley's metaphysics and personality he fell, and great was the fall—from divine metaphysics to tar-water!

    Spat Among the Anti-Materialists

  • Siris is a complicated work that starts with a speculative discussion about the medical properties of tar-water.

    Archive 2005-06-01


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  • Charles-Town in South Carolina. At the first breaking out of the Small Pox in this Town, several Persons were advised to prepare their Bodies for any sudden Attack thereof, by drinking some Days in the Morning Tar-water, which, they were assured, would cleanse their Bodies and thereby cause the Pox to be favourable i.e. not leave terrible scars; Experience since has shewn, that all those who have made Use of the said Tar-water have not only hitherto escaped the Infection, though they have been in Houses and Rooms where infected Persons were, but also one certain Person having drank a Quantity thereof has been since twice inoculated without any Effect, which proves this Tar-water not only to be a Preservative but an Antidote against the Infection, and consequently far preferable to the Inoculation. Heh. Yeah, right. —Ed. For the Benefit of the Public therefore I have been desired to publish the Manner of making and using the Tar-water, which is as follows:

    Recipe. About Two Quarts of Tar, which is a sufficient Quantity for Six Persons, put in the Evening upon it about 5 Pints of Water, after having stirr'd it well let it settle; and the next Morning pour off the clear Water, and take fasting near a Pint, which is to be continued 5 Days successively, every Morning, the Quantity of Water taken from it must be immediately supplyed again. After 5 Days using the same, half a Pint every other Day is sufficient for Two Weeks, then a Quarter of a Pint is enough to be taken every other Day during the Time of the Infection, tho' the more you take the better it will be. The Tar is not to be renewed till after Two Months.

    Virginia Gazette, August 11, 1738

    Wow. They either give you poisons to make you throw up (see pleurisy), or give you poisons that ought to make you throw up. Yikes.

    January 29, 2009

  • *gags*

    January 29, 2009

  • A cold infusion of tar in water, which was formerly a celebrated remedy for many chronic affectations.

    John Ogilvie, Comprehensive English Dictionary, 1865

    His way of making it is to put, I think, a gallon of water to a quart of tar, and after stirring it together, to let it stand forty~eight hours, and then pour off the clear and drink a glass of about half a pint in ye morn, and as much at five in ye aft noon. It's become as common to call for a glass of tar~water in a coffee house as a dich of tea, or coffee.

    John Whishaw, describing Berkeley's recipe for tar water, 1744

    February 4, 2009