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View Full Version : Need a more PC term for "tar baby"


a35362
05-09-2012, 04:25 PM
What's an easier way to say a situation is something one shouldn't get involved with because you won't easily get out again, that it will come back to hurt you? More than "quagmire," the getting stuck part, but also the repercussions part?

robardin
05-09-2012, 04:28 PM
Herpes Not-So-Simplex?

Kimstu
05-09-2012, 04:31 PM
I know I've heard the phrase "barbed wire waistcoat", as in something you really regret getting into and have a hard time getting out of, but I cannot find any examples of it.

Fear Itself
05-09-2012, 04:36 PM
What's an easier way to say a situation is something one shouldn't get involved with because you won't easily get out again, that it will come back to hurt you? More than "quagmire," the getting stuck part, but also the repercussions part?Tar baby doesn't imply negative repercussions either.

obfusciatrist
05-09-2012, 04:39 PM
Sticky wicket, kind of?

My mom would call situations that were hard to get out of "roach motels."

TimToyGeek
05-09-2012, 05:23 PM
I've always liked the term 'monkey trap' for that kind of situation. It's especially fitting since all the monkey needs to do is just let go of the food, and it could escape the trap.

Tim

Sampiro
05-09-2012, 05:29 PM
Minefield? You might make it through just fine several times or you might be blown to smithereens the first time you step in it, and the best way to not be is to avoid it altogether.

GrandWino
05-09-2012, 05:33 PM
Tar Infant-American?

Colibri
05-09-2012, 05:39 PM
Tar baby doesn't imply negative repercussions either.

You mean, aside from being covered in tar?

Marley23
05-09-2012, 05:43 PM
Clusterfuck comes to mind. It's less specific, though.

Skammer
05-09-2012, 05:43 PM
Does "tar baby" have racist origins, or just racist connotations? It makes me think of the Bre'er Rabbit story and it would be a shame to lose that image if it's been mistakenly linked to racism, like how you can't say 'niggardly' anymore.

twickster
05-09-2012, 05:43 PM
Tar Infant-American?

I think you mean "petroleum product infant American."

chacoguy
05-09-2012, 05:47 PM
Land War in Asia?

Ethilrist
05-09-2012, 05:50 PM
Don't go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line?

kunilou
05-09-2012, 05:54 PM
I call it "alligators in the swamp" from the old saying "When you're wrestling alligators, it's hard to remember that your original objective was to drain the swamp."

But "minefield" also works.

obfusciatrist
05-09-2012, 05:56 PM
Does "tar baby" have racist origins, or just racist connotations?

No, not origins. Yes, connotations. My grandfather was known to refer to black children as tar babies (and as a result of him I grew up not knowing any better about calling Brazil nuts "nigger toes"). And there is always the question of how often a word not racist in origin needs to be used in racist ways before the taint it too strong.

When I hear it used I give a big benefit of the doubt to the user (since a lot of people are honestly unaware of any other uses) and the context, but it is a phrase I'd generally avoid.

pancakes3
05-09-2012, 06:23 PM
bad news, black hole, maelstrom of hopelessness

Nawth Chucka
05-09-2012, 06:36 PM
No, not origins. Yes, connotations. My grandfather was known to refer to black children as tar babies (and as a result of him I grew up not knowing any better about calling Brazil nuts "nigger toes"). And there is always the question of how often a word not racist in origin needs to be used in racist ways before the taint it too strong.

When I hear it used I give a big benefit of the doubt to the user (since a lot of people are honestly unaware of any other uses) and the context, but it is a phrase I'd generally avoid.What, was pickaninny too fancified for him? My hillbilly cousin trotted that one out at the last funeral I saw him; pity it wasn't his own.

I like 'fine kettle of fish', myself. I mean, what ya gonna do w/ all those fish? Gotta do something, what a mess.

Typo Negative
05-09-2012, 06:40 PM
No, not origins. Yes, connotations. My grandfather was known to refer to black children as tar babies (and as a result of him I grew up not knowing any better about calling Brazil nuts "nigger toes"). And there is always the question of how often a word not racist in origin needs to be used in racist ways before the taint it too strong.

When I hear it used I give a big benefit of the doubt to the user (since a lot of people are honestly unaware of any other uses) and the context, but it is a phrase I'd generally avoid.
When I visited my grandparents in Tennessee, tar baby was still used as a racial slur. This was in the late 70's.

a35362
05-09-2012, 10:29 PM
Hmmm... I like "minefield," but the mines won't come after you after you make it out of the minefield.

A "black hole" you have no chance of getting out of. A one way trip.

I'm reading about... I dare not say her name aloud. The former governor of Alaska. The idea is you don't want to engage her because you will get stuck, and even if you can get loose, she then comes after you. So even a tar baby wouldn't come after you. And you wouldn't get stuck to a large, dangerous animal such as a shark or a, uh, grizzly bear, although you might not get away.

Maybe that's it. A grizzly bear would probably leave you alone as long as you left it alone, but if you engage the bear (or other large, dangerous animal)... well, no, you probably wouldn't get away from it in the first place. But if you did, it would chase after you.

rowrrbazzle
05-09-2012, 10:51 PM
Quicksand? The harder you struggle, the harder it is to get out.

Unintentionally Blank
05-09-2012, 10:57 PM
The problem with tar baby is: It's just so onomatopoeic. It made perfect literal sence in that it's something you can't ever possibly touch without getting covered in it....but as an adult, I look at it and wonder if perhaps it doesn't refer to an illegitimate child with a slave?

(yes, you may hit me over the head with the d'uh! bat)

Zeldar
05-09-2012, 10:59 PM
You could trade ethnicities with which to be racist or non-PC by using Chinese finger trap (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_finger_trap) if that toy conveys your idea.

Thudlow Boink
05-09-2012, 11:04 PM
Does "tar baby" have racist origins, or just racist connotations? It makes me think of the Bre'er Rabbit story and it would be a shame to lose that image if it's been mistakenly linked to racism, like how you can't say 'niggardly' anymore.We've actually discussed this pretty extensively in the past.
From 2011: Is the term "Tar Baby" an ethnic slur? (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=618765) (with poll)
From 2006: "Tar Baby" - offensive slur? (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=382011)
From 2001: I used the word 'tar-baby' (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=77614)

For anyone unfamiliar with the story, Spoke summarized it well in that last thread:In a nutshell, Brer Fox (hoping to catch Brer Rabbit) makes a little person out of tar, the "tar baby," and set it in the middle of the road. Brer Rabbit comes along and offers the tar baby a friendly greeting, but the tar baby "He don't say nothin'."

Brer Rabbit is offended at the tar baby's rudeness. He again offers a greeting, but the tar baby "He don't say nothin'."

Brer Rabbit gets increasingly agitated until he finally hauls off and hits the tar baby. Of course he only succeeds in getting himself stuck to the thing. He swings again and gets stuck even worse. The more he struggles and fights, the more entangled he becomes.

Which is why the tar baby is such a nice metaphor for any situation in which you are slowly drawn into an ever-more-tangled mess.
Of the suggestions people have made here, quicksand seems to me to best capture the quality of "the more you struggle, the stucker you get." However, don't people get trapped in quicksand because they don't see it? which is kind of the opposite of the tar baby situation.

Two Many Cats
05-09-2012, 11:22 PM
Here's a nice visual from Shakespeare: "Steeped in blood".

The whole quote is from MacBeth:

"I am steeped in blood so that were I to wade no more,
returning would be as tedious as to go o'er."


It has a real "might as well get it over with, because there's no getting out of it," feel.

a35362
05-09-2012, 11:44 PM
Maybe a tar baby IN quicksand...

njtt
05-09-2012, 11:49 PM
The Br'er Rabbit stories are anti-racist stories, and the tar baby in the story is not an actual baby at all, of any race, but a device used by Br'er Rabbit (representing the powerless but wily black man) to trick Br'er Fox (the powerful and dangerous, but stupid, white man). Do we really have to give up all our shared metaphors just because they may have occasionally been misunderstood and misappropriated by racist morons?

BrainGlutton
05-09-2012, 11:50 PM
Tar baby doesn't imply negative repercussions either.

It does if you know the Br'er Rabbit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tar_baby) story.

BrainGlutton
05-09-2012, 11:52 PM
Tarbaby, Tarbaby, tell me true
Who is really the jigaboo?
Is it the white man, the white talking that jive
Or the black man, the black, trying to stay alive?
You can't touch a tarbaby, everybody knows
Smiling all the while wit de bone in de nose
That's the way the story goes
That's the way the story goes

-- Michelle Shocked (http://www.michelleshocked.com/chords_jump_jim.htm)

toadspittle
05-10-2012, 12:10 AM
Gelatinous Cube?

Ranchoth
05-10-2012, 01:55 AM
Tar pit (http://tadhg.com/images/photos/tar_pit_mastodons.jpg)?

Giles
05-10-2012, 01:56 AM
Does "can of worms" work?

Zeke N. Destroi
05-10-2012, 06:56 AM
...the tar baby in the story is not an actual baby at all, of any race, but a device used by Br'er Rabbit (representing the powerless but wily black man) to trick Br'er Fox (the powerful and dangerous, but stupid, white man)...

I think you got that backward. It was Br'er Fox who made the tar-baby to trick Br'er Rabbit.

And, to the OP, no, tar-baby isn't an inherently racist term - unless reference to anytthing ebony-hued is racist. Yes, the tar-baby was black. Why? Because tar is black. Why make it out of tar? Because tar is notoriously sticky. Why make it in the form of a person? Because Br'er Rabbit was unlikely to be upset by the indifferent silence of a tar-shrub.

It can be used in a racist way, "Buncha fucking tar-babies always causing trouble."

But it is properly used to describe a situation that is really easy to get into and really difficult (and messy) to get out of, "Wow, subprime mortgages sure turned out to be an economic tar-baby. Whodduh thunk it?"

Horatio Hellpop
05-10-2012, 07:05 AM
A funhouse, badly maintained, with no exit?

Rhythmdvl
05-10-2012, 07:13 AM
Sarah Palin's Vagina


(hey, it fits with what the OP is reading.)

Sigmagirl
05-10-2012, 08:35 AM
Hotel California?

njtt
05-11-2012, 03:19 AM
I think you got that backward. It was Br'er Fox who made the tar-baby to trick Br'er Rabbit.

Yeah, maybe you are right, maybe Br'er Fox made it, it has been a long time, but the point remains the same, because, of course, Br'er Rabbit was not ultimately defeated, rather he turned the con around so that it was Br'er Fox who lost. Br'er Rabbit (it is coming back to me now) got himself thrown in the briar patch, because it was was what he wanted, because he could survive there when Fox couldn't, and because it was the ideal place to unstick himself from the tar-baby. It is still an anti-racist (or reverse racist) story, where Rabbit (powerless but smart black man) defeats Fox (powerful, predatory white man who is not nearly as smart as he thinks himself to be).

It means what you said it means, and, as I said before, we should not be so ready to surrender our good common metaphors to racists, just because they may sometimes misuse them.

awldune
05-11-2012, 10:43 AM
Don't know why you rule out "quagmire," that is the best substitute.

Thudlow Boink
05-11-2012, 11:34 AM
Don't know why you rule out "quagmire," that is the best substitute.Giggity giggity!

Thanks to Family Guy, "Quagmire" now has a whole nother set of associations for many of us.

handsomeharry
05-11-2012, 01:14 PM
I was thinking
1. Albatross
2. White Elephant.

Hypno-Toad
05-11-2012, 02:22 PM
Kobayashi Maru?

Fear Itself
05-11-2012, 02:44 PM
Bituminous infant?

a35362
05-11-2012, 03:04 PM
Kobayashi Maru?

Oooooo, Star Trek reference. I like it. :cool:

Repercussions.

phxjcc
05-11-2012, 04:33 PM
Pandora's Box
Morass
Labyrinth
Web

and one that I never heard of...
Boscage - A mass of trees or shrubs; a thicket.

The Second Stone
05-11-2012, 05:34 PM
When you are at the bottom of a hole you have been digging and it is too deep, stop digging.

LC Strawhouse
05-11-2012, 11:30 PM
"holding a wolf by the ears"

NDP
05-11-2012, 11:49 PM
Caught on a slippery slope?

a35362
05-11-2012, 11:53 PM
"holding a wolf by the ears"

I like this one also. Like "riding a tiger," I think. Hang on!

Zebra
05-12-2012, 12:06 AM
Instead of "punched the tar baby" I now say "put your dick in the crazy".

destineal
05-12-2012, 12:26 AM
Hey, this question hit close to home for me. A few years ago, a black Pomeranian puppy wandered up to our house. We took him in (cause he's awesome) and innocently named him Tarbaby- because he's small, black, and crap sticks to him constantly. Didnt think of the racial thing at all. We soon figured out that it's kind of uncomfortable to go outside and yell "Tarbaby!...Here, Tarbaby!" in a mostly black neighborhood. We just call him Tar these days. I realize this isn't helpful, so I'll just go away now.

TonySinclair
05-12-2012, 01:56 AM
Grabbing a tiger by the tail.

a35362
05-12-2012, 11:36 AM
Hey, I think that's it! :cool:

Spoke
05-12-2012, 11:53 AM
"Quagmire" seems the closest, but even that doesn't really convey the idea that it is your aggression which is getting you into deeper and deeper trouble.

I think there is no perfect metaphorical substitute for "tarbaby."