March 6, 2014

This isn't really relevant to Crimean Tatars

Here's my favorite use of the word "Tartar" in English literature. From Evelyn Waugh's first novel Decline and Fall about Paul Pennyfeather's first job as a teacher at the Llanabba Castle boarding school. 
At this moment the butler appeared with a message that Dr. Fagan wished to see Mr. Pennyfeather. 
Dr. Fagan’s part of the Castle was more palatial. He stood at the end of a long room with his back to a rococo marble chimney-piece; he wore a velvet dinner-jacket. 
“Settling in?” he asked. 
“Yes,” said Paul. 
Sitting before the fire, with a glass bottle of sweets in her lap, was a brightly dressed woman in early middle age. 
“That,” said Dr. Fagan with some disgust, “is my daughter.” 
“Pleased to meet you,” said Miss Fagan. “Now what I always tell the young chaps as comes here is, ‘Don’t let the Dad overwork you.’ He’s a regular Tartar is Dad, but then you know what scholars are—inhuman. Ain’t you,” said Miss Fagan, turning on her father with sudden ferocity—“ain’t you inhuman?” 
“At times, my dear, I am grateful for what little detachment I have achieved."
Dr. Fagan, the snobbish headmaster, later explains that the reason he's so prejudiced against members of the working class is because he married one.


Auntie Analogue said...

In British English "Tartar" is, or was, in common usage to denote a take-no-prisoners individual, usually one in authority, of violent temper.

In the late 1980's PBS 'Masterpiece Theatre' aired its 'Piece Of Cake' series about an RAF fighter squadron in the first two years of WWII. In one episode, based on an actual lethal friendly fire air combat incident (The Battle of Barking Creek:, the CO of the offending squadron deputizes his second-in-command to apologize in person to the CO of the offended squadron, assuring his second-in-command that the other squadron's CO is an understanding, reasonable chap. As soon as the second-in-command leaves his CO's office another pilot asks the CO if the other squadron commander is an understanding, reasonable man, and the CO says something like, "No, I know him. He's a Tartar."

eah said...

Here's my favorite use of the word "Tartar" in English literature.

My favorite use is down at the fish shop. Although I occasionally prefer malt vinegar.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the name Pennefather, Villanova Univ greatest female basketball player was named Shelly Pennefather. She played in the late 80's and was all-Ammerican 3x and was Player of the Year for '87 or '88. She played professionally in Japan for 2 or 3 years for about $100k per annum.

Then she joined a cloistered convent of Poor Clare nuns. Her coach and teammates visit her once a year.

roundeye said...

The golf hole Redan (15 at North Berwick and almost every other course) was named after a Russian fort in the Crimean War. That is all I got.

Hunsdon said...

Allegedly this joke comes from the Crimean War:

Tommy One: I caught a Tartar!

Tommy Two: Well, bring 'im 'ere.

Tommy One: 'E won't let me go!

DJF said...

Or you could use Tartar in its original sense. A tribe which was part of the Golden Horde which destroyed cities and whole civilizations in Asia and eastern Europe and then settled down in Crimea to run a very profitable and massive slave operation supplied by violent raids into Poland, Ukraine, Russia etc.

peterike said...

Miss Fagan = regression to the mean

David said...

Steak tartar is our most dangerous meat dish.

Edward Waverley said...

As a young man, this was Kingsley Amis' favorite novel. He regarded it as the comic masterpiece of the twentieth century.

Sean said...

They took prisoners all right, they earned their living with an annual girl stealing expedition And few Ukrainians were as lucky as Roxelana.

Anonymous said...

The word was in general English usage in the 1930s as meaning feisty/stroppy/belligerent, someone who it wouldn't take much to provoke to anger. "She's a right Tartar".

Google Ngrams shows it was much more used in Victorian times, but then we knew about the Crimean Tartars, and Cream of Tartar had many household applications, both in food preparation and cleaning.

a harsh, fierce, or intractable person.
noun: tartar; plural noun: tartars
"my new Company Commander is a horrible tartar"

wordsum said...

Auntie, shouldn't that be 'connote'? I ask ingenuously- don't really know.

smead jolley said...

"Played professionally in Japan."

In the 90's there was a black guy in Berkeley who played pro basketball in Japan. I never understood how, since he wasn't that good in our pick-up games. Anyway, he had a friend, a guy who dropped out of Cal but spent years hanging around campus, who tried to trade on the first guy's story. One day I was in the smoke shop run by a nice Egyptian family when the fraudster came in and tried to borrow money by claiming he had the Japan thing. I was glad to be able to inform the proprietress that his story was bunk.

Auntie Analogue said...

My dear wordsum, let us examine Webster's definitions:


(broadly) designate, indicate, to mean

1 : to serve as an indication of : betoken

2 : to serve as an arbitrary mark for

3 : to make known : announce

4 a : to serve as a linguistic expression of the notion of : mean

b : to stand for : designate


1 : to be associated with or inseparable from as a consequence or concomitant

2 a : to convey in addition to exact explicit meaning

b : to imply as a logical connotation

Further examples:

"To denote him a Tartar meant that he was intolerant and possessed of a violent temper."

"The word Tartar connotes intolerance, violent temper."

Anonymous said...

Forget Webster, I never trusted that Pygmy. Denotation is the meaning of a word and conotation is its referent. Eg: cow can mean a fat woman, a bovine, etcetera. What it refers to is context dependent, i.g. it depends what we're talking about. If we're on the on the ranch discussing cattle, we're most likely talking bovines. If we're talking obesity, well …