Times change, I need a new phrase for a difficult situation
June 25, 2012 6:20 AM   Subscribe

I need a replacement for the colloquialism "tar baby".

I don't want to use the phrase "tar baby" to describe a situation that one should not become involved with because it will involve the outside individual in an intractable mess. I don't have a good replacement for it. Ideas?
posted by unixrat to Writing & Language (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Best answer: Morass?
Sticky wicket?
Quagmire?
posted by inturnaround at 6:23 AM on June 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


Best answer: Quagmire?
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:24 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Land war in Asia
posted by caek at 6:25 AM on June 25, 2012 [26 favorites]


Quicksand. The more you struggle, the deeper you sink.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:31 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


clusterfuck!
posted by mullacc at 6:33 AM on June 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


Hot potato?
posted by derbs at 6:33 AM on June 25, 2012


Third rail.
posted by Nomyte at 6:34 AM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Never get involved in a land war in Asia. It is a classic blunder. And a reference to game of risk.
posted by Flood at 6:46 AM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Opening a can of worms.

Poking a hornets' nest.

Nest of vipers.

Never-ending story.
posted by unSane at 6:50 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hot [appropriate relevant descriptor] mess?
posted by scratch at 6:57 AM on June 25, 2012


Tar pit
posted by zippy at 7:11 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Trainwreck.

Self-inflicted Vietnam (my favorite of all time)
posted by unSane at 7:18 AM on June 25, 2012


Best answer: Yeah, I've had this concern. I use quicksand or quagmire for this because for me the part I wanted to convey was "The more you try to extricate yourself the more you get messed up and stuck in it" which was hard to find a synonymous phrase for.
posted by jessamyn at 7:34 AM on June 25, 2012


Best answer: I'd go with quagmire and not just because of the racist tones of 'tar baby' - I'm not sure most folks under 40 would even understand the reference anymore.
posted by phearlez at 7:47 AM on June 25, 2012


Friend of mine used to use "foul up in the taffy factory". But I've always found "quagmire" or "sticky wicket" sufficient for conveying that "the more you try to get out, the more you mire yourself in the mess" sense.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:50 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have used "If you give a mouse a cookie", but that probably only works with parents.
posted by qldaddy at 7:54 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fly paper.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:05 AM on June 25, 2012


Sticky wicket is my preferred choice for this one too.
posted by jquinby at 8:09 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Catch 22?
posted by jeffamaphone at 8:27 AM on June 25, 2012


I've always used the phrase "mess o' trouble" or "borrowing trouble" to describe these situations. Because if someone's gonna dig themselves deeper, they're just borrowin' trouble.
posted by patheral at 8:29 AM on June 25, 2012


Sticky situation.
posted by jocelmeow at 8:44 AM on June 25, 2012


A katamari?
posted by porpoise at 10:16 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I use the phrase "sticking your head in a badger hole."
posted by MaryDellamorte at 10:28 AM on June 25, 2012


Wrench in the machinery?

Nthing quicksand/quagmire (giggity).
"Quit digging" as in "when you're in a hole, quit digging."
posted by mon-ma-tron at 10:59 AM on June 25, 2012


"Glue trap" is one I sometimes use. Also "quicksand".
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:25 AM on June 25, 2012


"Shit show!"

More generic, but more fun.
posted by cnc at 11:59 AM on June 25, 2012


I've used "feed the alligators and you get bigger alligators."
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:36 PM on June 25, 2012


My husband worked with someone who called that "stirring the monkeys."
posted by mon-ma-tron at 4:33 PM on June 25, 2012


Imbroglio or train wreck. But honestly, I'd use quagmire in 99% of such cases. BTW, I'm fairly over 40 and had never heard the OP's term (as a racial epithet or descriptive term) except as the title of Toni Morrison's book, until last year.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 4:58 PM on June 25, 2012


Digging your hole deeper.

When speaking directly to someone, "X, you're digging. Stop that." Or, "X needs to quit digging that hole, you know?"
posted by cmyk at 7:04 PM on June 25, 2012


I think Thomas Jefferson had an expression for this which he called "having a wolf by the ears."
posted by 4ster at 10:19 PM on June 25, 2012


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