Children's, Intermediate and Advanced Online English Dictionary & Thesaurus

  • Word of the Day
    shyster

    shaI st@r

    noun
    a person, usu. a lawyer, who uses underhanded, unethical methods.
    That shyster accepted her fee for his services but did almost nothing for her.

    see more
  • Vocabulary of the Day
    naysayer

    neI seI @r

    noun
    a person who refuses, denies, or opposes, esp. because of cynicism or pessimism.
    They went ahead with their ambitious plan despite the arguments of the naysayers.

    see more
Apr
17
2013

tar and feather

Posted in Word of the Day by admin

transitive verb
definition 1: to punish or humiliate by coating with tar and feathers.
definition 2: to punish with vicious criticism.

The politician pictured below has been tarred and feathered in effigy. Tarring and feathering is a most public form of punishment and humiliation.

A politician tarred and feathered in effigy

A politician tarred and feathered in effigy

Actual punishment using tar and feathers varied in viciousness, depending on the type of tar, its melting temperature, and where on the victim’s body it was applied. As with “keelhaul,” those with a penchant for horror and history will find lots of information online. As an expression (definition 2), “tar and feather” is fairly common and sometimes accompanied by “and ride him out of town on a rail.” This rail is yet another type of cruel and unusual, publicly humiliating punishment. This combo–of tar, feathers, and rail–is depicted in a scene at the beginning of the movie John Adams.

Writers, however, should be aware that “tar and feather” could be considered a punishable cliche, what George Orwell in Politics and the English Language calls a “dying metaphor.” But this is such a big topic that it will have to wait.