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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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A Word A Day — tartar

Good morning, Netizens...

November 20, 2012

Word of the Day

  • tartar
  • audio pronunciation
  • \TAHR-ter\


: a person of irritable or violent temper
: one that proves to be unexpectedly formidable

"Strange that one whom I have described hitherto as so timid and easily put upon should prove such a Tartar all of a sudden on the day of his marriage." — From Samuel Butler's 1903 autobiographical novel The Way of All Flesh

"'Yes, Great-aunt Gert took us both under her wing.' He jerked his head toward the severe woman in the painting. 'My father's spinster aunt, a bold tartar of a woman who most people were frightened to death of.'" — From Anne Gracie's 2008 novel The Stolen Princess


Originally, their name was "Tatar," not "Tartar." Since at least the 1200s, the Tatar people have lived in Asia and Eastern Europe, and they were among the fiercest fighters of the Golden Horde of the Mongols. In the 13th century, they rode with Genghis Khan and became the terror of their day. Their name, "Tatar," is believed to come from Persian or a Turkic language, but in Europe it was associated with "Tartarus," the Latin name for the part of Hell reserved for the punishment of the wicked. Because of that association, English speakers began calling the Tatar people "Tartars." Over time, "tartar" came to be used for anyone considered as ferocious or violent as the Tartar warriors who had once ransacked the ancient world.

Spokesman-Review readers blog about news and issues in Spokane written by Dave Laird.