Green’s Dictionary of Slang

tartar n.

[proper name Tartar, an inhabitant of the region of Central Asia extending east from the Caspian Sea, and formerly known as Independent and Chinese Tartary; ult. Persian Tatar, but linked in Western ears and superstitions with Lat. tartarus, hell]

1. a strolling vagabond, a beggar, a criminal mendicant.

[[UK]Shakespeare Merry Wives of Windsor IV v: Here’s a Bohemian-Tartar tarries the coming down of thy fat woman].
[UK]New Canting Dict. n.p.: tartar a notorious Rogue or Sharper, who sticks not to rob his Brother Rogue; and in this respect is reckon’d by some, the Fifty-ninth Order of Villains.
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. [as cit. 1725].

2. (also tart, tarterer) a general derog. description.

[UK]Shakespeare Midsummer Night’s Dream III ii: Thy love! out, tawny Tartar, out!
[UK]Dryden Wild Gallant II i: I never knew your grandmother was a Scotchwoman. Is she not a Tartar too?
[UK]J. Phillips Maronides (1678) V 74: What hideous Tartar with a vengeance / Invented first these fatal Engins.
[UK]Rochester ‘A Satire Upon the Times’ in Works of Rochester (1721) 19: That well knew how to value painted Toys, / And left the Tartar to be catch’d by Boys.
[UK] ‘Song’ in Playford Pills to Purge Melancholy I 102: Nor will I in haste, / My dear liberty barter, / Lest, thinking to catch, / I am caught by a Tartar.
[UK]Smollett Peregrine Pickle (1964) 323: And you yourself are a Goth, and a Turk, and a Tartar, and an impudent pretending jackanapes.
[UK]Mme D’Arblay Diary and Letters (1904) I 70: Ah! [...] they will little think what a tartar you carry to them!
[Ire] ‘The Irish Morsho’ in North Country Maid 3: I took up my quarters just when I did land / Amongst noble tartars at old Mother Hands.
[UK]Bridges Burlesque Homer (4th edn) I 254: Sthenelus, the bully’s carter, / Remember’d what he heard that Tartar / His master say.
[UK]B.H. Malkin (trans.) Adventures of Gil Blas (1822) I 207: Ah! lovely Mergelina, little do you fathom my character, to be deceived by the fine compliments of your husband the doctor, or by my Tartar contour!
[UK]‘A. Burton’ Adventures of Johnny Newcome III 129: They knew their Captain was no starter, Yet far too keen to catch a Tartar.
[UK]‘Bill Truck’ Man o’ War’s Man (1843) x: The proud old tartar of a fellow his grandfather.
[UK]T. Hood ‘Drinking Song’ Works (1862) IV 225: No part I take in party fray, With tropes from Billingsgate’s slang-whanging tartars.
[UK]W.J. Neale Paul Periwinkle 637: John, who had entered the service before as a midshipman, beneath an unfeeling Tartar of a captain.
[UK]Thackeray Newcomes II 329: What a woman that Mrs. Mackenzie is [...] What an infernal tartar and catamaran!
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 3 Nov. 3/2: But Joseph was a ‘Tartar,’ and on the way to the police elysium turned suddenly round, and with his fist struck him a violent blow .
[UK]Thackeray Adventures of Philip (1899) 261: A Tartar that fellow was, and no mistake!
[US]W.H. Thomes Slaver’s Adventures 109: Trouble will arise, I am sure, for I see something in that fellow’s eyes that tells me he is a Tartar.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 5 Sept. 24/2: [N]ow followed the loudest smashing of crockery I ever heard. [...] Mrs. W had clearly enough turned Tartar, and thrown the whole of the dinner and dinner things into the fire-place.
[UK]‘F. Anstey’ Voces Populi 325: ’E’s got a Tartar there, ’e ’as!
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 4 Mar. 4/7: He ran against a Tartar — snagged, / And now in goal’s securely lagged.
[UK]Taunton Courier 26 Apr. 8/4: She’ a tarterer! [...] That is the reason she has never married .
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 22 Aug. 36/1: My ’usband ’e’s blasphemin’ and performin’ like a Tartar – / ’E sez a youngster orter use a gun [...].
[US]M.C. Sharpe Chicago May (1929) 29: I had tackled a tartar.

3. a champion, an expert.

[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: A Tartar is also an adept at any feat, or game: he is quite a Tartar at cricket, or billiards.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum [as cit. 1785].
[UK]‘Jon Bee’ Dict. of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, etc.
[UK]E. de la Bédollière Londres et les Anglais 318/1: tartar, [...] individu qui excelle dans une spécialité quelconque.
[US]J. Archibald ‘Crash on Delivery’ in Flying Aces Nov. [Internet] Phineas had picked himself a tartar. [...] The Boche crate seemed capable of doing as many tricks as a wasp.

In phrases

catch a tartar (v.)

to encounter an apparent victim or weakling who turns out to be much stronger than suspected.

Dryden ‘Prologue toThe King and Queen’ in Works (1854) 270: When men will needlessly their freedom barter for lawless power, sometimes they catch a tarter .
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: To catch a Tartar, in stead of catching, to be catcht in a Trap.
[UK]New Canting Dict. n.p.: To catch a Tartar, is said, among the Canting Varlets, when a Rogue attacks one that he thinks a Passenger, but proves to be of this Class of Villains, who, in his Turn, having overcome the Assailant, robs, plunders, and binds him.
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. [as cit. 1725].
[UK]Smollett Roderick Random (1979) 175: Ah! ah! have you caught a tartar?
[UK]Richardson Sir Charles Grandison (1812) I 30: He had caught a Tartar!
[UK]Foote Nabob in Works (1799) II 308: It is they have caught the Tartars in us.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: tartar, to catch a tartar, to attack one of superior strength or abilities; This saying originated from the story of an Irish soldier, in the Imperial service, who, in a battle against the Turks, called out to his camerade that he had caught a Tartar, bring him along then, said he; he won’t come, answered paddy; then come along yourself, replied his camerade; arrah, cried he, but he won’t let me.
[UK]Sporting Mag. Sept. VIII 309/1: She has now caught a Count and a Tartar at the same time; but would willingly relinquish her title to move in the more humble sphere of Clarinda.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]‘A. Burton’ Adventures of Johnny Newcome III 129: They knew their Captain was no starter, Yet far too keen to catch a Tartar.
[Ire]Tom and Jerry; A Musical Extravaganza II iv: I’ve caught a Tartar.
[UK]D. Haggart Autobiog. 43: He soon found he had catched a tartar, for I instantly planted a right-hand blow on his underjaw, which sent him reeling to the ground.
[UK]‘Jon Bee’ Dict. of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, etc.
[US]Knickerbocker (N.Y.) viii (Sept.) 285: The ‘cracker’ soon discovered that he had caught a Tartar.
[Ind]Bellew Memoirs of a Griffin I 167: The general [...] ventured [...] on a second marriage; but here he caught a Tartar.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 29 Aug. 2/5: A common trick among the ‘street phaetons’ when they catch a tartar who can not or will not fork out the ready.
[US]Bartlett Dict. Americanisms.
[UK](con. 1850) Fights for the Championship 225: Bendy soon discovered that he had ‘caught a Tartar’ and not [...] ‘a yokel’.
[US]O.W. Holmes Autocrat of the Breakfast Table 206: When the Danish pirates made descents upon the English coast, they caught a few tartars occasionally, in the shape of Saxons.
[US]J.R. Lowell Biglow Papers 2nd Ser. (1880) 105: There’s Philllips, for instance, has jes’ ketched a tartar / In the Law-’n’-Order Party of ole Cincinnater.
[US]Schele De Vere Americanisms 623: Passenger, to wake up the wrong, — a phrase derived from the frequent mistakes made in waking up passengers who were to start early in the morning, — means to be mistaken in a man, to ‘catch a Tartar.’.
[UK]C. Hindley Life and Adventures of a Cheap Jack 237: He found he had caught a Tartar this time. He also knew Tom Maley as a fighting man, and as one of the most scientific of his day.
[UK]H. Smart Post to Finish I 155: He caught a Tartar with a vengeance. Jim’s left shot out [...] and stretched the joker flat upon his back.
[Aus]J. Furphy Buln-Buln and the Brolga (1948) [Internet] ‘I’ve caught you at last, Falkland-Pritchard!’ he hissed [...] ‘And take my word for it, my good fellow, you’ve caught a Tartar!’ says I.
[UK]D. Stewart Shadows of the Night in Illus. Police News 28 Sept. 12/2: The mob [...] guessed how matters stood — a thief had ‘caught a tartar’.
[Aus](con. 1940s–60s) Hogbotel & ffuckes ‘The Bastard from the Bush’ in Snatches and Lays 82: Now listen here, you buggers, we’ve caught a fucking tartar, / At every kind of bludging, that bastard is a starter.