03.11.2011 01:06 PM

Is it okay to call someone a “tar baby”? (updated)

Someone who I thought knew better apparently doesn’t. Pretty disappointing.

@kady: I’d actually love to bring ‘tar baby’ back to acceptable usage. There’s really no satisfactory alternative.

@kady: I’m sorry, but “tar baby” – and, indeed, “cotton-pickin'” – are orders of magnitude less dubious than, say, ‘gyp’.

Someone just sent me the bit of idiocy below, which Kady retweeted. I don’t think someone is getting the point:

@johnbowman: @kady Must we be so niggardly with our language? … Oh, crap.


  1. beachdude says:

    What the hell? How can this be acceptable language? Imagine someone from the right suggesting such bullsh!t as acceptable

  2. Cow says:

    Same with the cotton picker / cotton pickin’ thing from earlier this morning.

    Okay, I get that someone might not know why that’s considered offensive and racist (well, sort of — it seems fairly obvious to me, but I grew up in the American South, so I might just be more attuned to that particular bit of terrible human history) but, once someone–well, half the internet–has explained it to you, how do you then turn around and say you’re going to bring it “back to acceptable usage”?

    *Especially* a writer. Wow.

    • Warren says:

      Agreed. I’m IN the American South at the moment. I know that if I see someone loudly tossing around “tar baby” and “niggard” in the same sentence on the main drag tonight, I will be less surprised to see someone drift them – than to see someone say: “Oh, what a clever use of language. You’ve taught me a lesson about political correctness, for which I am so grateful.”

  3. Jay-TO says:

    Cootin pickin isn’t a racist term. It was used to described something irritating/ hard/ difficult. It comes from a time when everyone picked cotton not just slaves.

    Mr Meredith should check up on American black history because he’s just visiting….from Jamaica to be A part of Harpers Veto.

  4. CQ says:

    On a side point: I don’t really know when Oriental became a politically incorrect term. I had always assumed that term as being simply an East Asian equivalant to European. I can’t just “tell” an Italian from a Hungarian or a Scot from an Ukrainian anymore than a Tibetan from a South Korean, or a Mexican from a Argentian, etc., (or a ‘Canuck’ from a ‘Yankee’). And that’s before factoring in the modern era of globalization.

    Other comparative slurs I recognized as racist although I’d also witnessed others – less mean-spirited – of these as being often used in the past, unintentionally, as a short-hand replacement term.

  5. hugger says:

    When people make derogatory comments toward our Native Canadians, I ask them if they are sure there is no Native blood in their Ancestry? Works well for those who claim a long standing Canadian Heritage.

    People from Away as they like to say in PEI, were granted the right to be here by our Governments, past and present

    I have white folk neighbors who are simple minded rednecks and I don’t care for them very much. I also have experienced many neighbors who were not simple minded, nor rednecks and their ethnic origins didn’t determine which they were.

    I don’t understand the controversy, except for the potential political advantage which I think is reprehensible, but just another page in the book of opportunism.

    Let them be, and let them live their lives as best they can.

    Mr. Kenny and all those who follow similar tactics will not be held in high regard by Canadians who try to respect all creatures appropriately, great or small.

  6. J. Rogers says:

    Oh for god’s sake. Tories outraged about racism. Does anyone actually think Ignatieff, for all his faults, harbors racist views? Just manufactured outrage by bullshit Reformers hoping to distract people from their illegal activities and disinterest in niceties like, you know, respect for Parliament or democracy.

  7. Martin Cooke says:

    Unless I missed the point (as usual), Bowman is himself misunderstanding “niggardly.”

  8. Joseph says:

    Ok, as someone who grew up in the deep south, and whose entire family on my mom’s side is deep south born and bred, no one I know would ever interpret “cotton pickin” to be even remotely racist.

    “Why’d they have to make this so cotton pickin’ hard?” . . . that’s the kind of usage you might hear. It’s an adjective, not a noun. It doesn’t represent some group . . . and it never did. Everyone I grew up with – of any persuasion – used the term. Actually, my generation didn’t so much, but all of our parents did. I grew up hearing it all over the place, without any racial distinction.

    The fact is picking cotton is hard . . . it tears up your hands and such.

    As for the term that started this whole discussion, yeah, wouldn’t be using that. Though the N word (despite what ever definition you want to cite) is an order of magitude higher than the T word. I wouldn’t be throwing that around and trying to explain it doesn’t mean anything bad.

    At the same time, this sounds like a complete hullabaloo about nothing.

    No one’s offended by hullabaloo, are they? I really don’t know anything about the origin there ;).

  9. JenS says:

    I agree with you, until you get to the “what ever (sic) definition you want to cite” bit. It IS THE DEFINITION. It’s not a word I use a lot, but to act as if it’s off limits because it sounds like something else is ridiculous.

    I’d use the word “homophone,” but I’d be afraid someone would think I was calling them something …

  10. Paul says:

    Kady is an embarrassment. Her over the top partisanship hides her lack of intellect.

    • JH says:

      You’re absolute right. That cute and perky bit, she and Rosy Barton have going on gets old quickly. As for the partisanship – doesn’t matter. No gravitas and no one of the Hill really knows who they are or takes them seriously.

  11. Said it before, Warren, and I’ll say it again: Twitter makes journalists look like idiots. I love the medium, I use it every day – but journalists who use Twitter in their capacity as journalists ought to know better.

  12. Joseph says:

    JenS I actually see your point as well.

    I just wouldn’t use it down south because it does actually contain the explosive word. I know it may seem silly, but I wouldn’t use it . . . but I do see your point.

  13. gray says:

    Neither “niggardly” or “tar baby” has an etymology based in racist discourse. Check the wiki article already linked. The suggestion that they are based in racism is on the intellectual level of sniggering ( hah) at the word “cockroach” or the phrase “homo erectus”.

  14. Dave Wells says:


    I really thing you’re looking at this soley through the eyes of a politician. In other words, in any remote, possible way can this situation win/lose me votes?

    It’s not whether it’s right or wrong or even grey, not whether there’s a moment here to learn something and maybe teach something, it always comes down to, “Can I win or lose votes”.

    It’s good for your political party, but bad for governance and the country/province/municipality at large.

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