Etymology
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tar (v.)

late Old English, "to smear with tar," from tar (n.1). To tar and feather (1769) was famously a mob action in America in Revolutionary times (used by both sides) and several decades thereafter. The punishment itself first is found in an ordinance of Richard I (1189) as the penalty in the Crusader navy for theft. Among other applications over the years was its use in 1623 by a bishop on "a party of incontinent friars and nuns" [OED], but the verbal phrase is not attested until 18c. Related: Tarred; tarring.

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tar (n.1)

a viscous liquid, Old English teoru, teru "tar, bitumen, resin, gum," literally "the pitch of (certain kinds of) trees," from Proto-Germanic *terw- (source also of Old Norse tjara, Old Frisian tera, Middle Dutch tar, Dutch teer, German Teer), probably a derivation of *trewo-, from PIE *derw-, variant of root *deru- "be firm, solid, steadfast," with specialized senses "wood, tree" and derivatives referring to objects made of wood.

Tar baby "a sticky problem," also a derogatory term for "black person," is from an 1881 "Uncle Remus" story by Joel Chandler Harris. Tarheel for "North Carolina resident" first recorded 1864, probably from the gummy resin of pine woods. Tar water, an infusion of tar in cold water, was popular as a remedy from c. 1740 through late 18c.

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tar (n.2)

also Jack Tar, "sailor," 1670s, probably a special use of tar (n.1), which stuff was a staple for waterproofing aboard old ships (knights of the tarbrush being a jocular phrase for "sailors"); or possibly a shortened form of tarpaulin, which was recorded as a nickname for a sailor in 1640s, from the tarpaulin garments they wore.

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coal-tar (n.)

"thick, black, viscid liquid left by the distillation of gas from coal," 1785, from coal (n.) + tar (n.).

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tarry (adj.)

1550s, from tar (n.1) + -y (2). Tarry-fingered "dishonest, thieving" is from 1825.

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tarbrush (n.)

"brush with which tar is applied," 1711, from tar (n.1) + brush (n.1). To have a touch of the tarbrush "have a dash of African ancestry visible in the skin tone" (1796) was "a term of contempt from the West Indies" [Century Dictionary].

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tarmac (n.)

1903, Tarmac, a trademark name, short for tarmacadam (1882) "pavement created by spraying tar over crushed stone," from tar (n.1) + John L. McAdam (see macadam). By 1919, tarmac was being used generally in Great Britain for "runway."

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tarpaulin (n.)

c. 1600, evidently a hybrid from tar (n.1) + palling, from pall "heavy cloth covering" (see pall (n.)); probably so called because the canvas sometimes is coated in tar to make it waterproof. Originally tarpawlin, tarpawling, etc., the spelling settled down early 18c.

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*deru- 

also *dreu-, Proto-Indo-European root meaning "be firm, solid, steadfast," with specialized senses "wood," "tree" and derivatives referring to objects made of wood.

It forms all or part of: betroth; Dante; dendrite; dendro-; dendrochronology; dour; Druid; drupe; dryad; dura mater; durable; durance; duration; duress; during; durum; endure; hamadryad; indurate; obdurate; perdurable; philodendron; rhododendron; shelter; tar (n.1) "viscous liquid;" tray; tree; trig (adj.) "smart, trim;" trim; troth; trough; trow; truce; true; trust; truth; tryst.

It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit dru "tree, wood," daru "wood, log, timber;" Greek drys "oak," drymos "copse, thicket," doru "beam, shaft of a spear;" Old Church Slavonic drievo "tree, wood," Serbian drvo "tree," drva "wood," Russian drevo "tree, wood," Czech drva, Polish drwa "wood;" Lithuanian drūtas "firm," derva "pine, wood;" Welsh drud, Old Irish dron "strong," Welsh derw "true," Old Irish derb "sure," Old Irish daur, Welsh derwen "oak;" Albanian drusk "oak;" Old English treo, treow "tree," triewe "faithful, trustworthy, honest."

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Betula (n.)

genus of the birches, from Latin betula "birch," from Gaulish betu- "bitumen" (source also of Middle Irish beithe "box tree," Welsh bedwen "birch tree"). According to Pliny, so called because the Gauls extracted tar from birches. Birch tar still is sold as an analgesic and stimulant and made into birch beer by the Pennsylvania Dutch.

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