Word Confusion: Tartar vs Tartare vs Tarter

Posted September 24, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

I fell into this one with a story in which one character is telling another (who is encased in a seaweed wrap) that she’s getting out the tarter sauce. It made me wonder, which sauce was the less tart one?

Then, as I was exploring this word confusion, I suddenly remembered steak tartare…and had to promptly go eat something —

I can’t decide…a ceviche starter followed by a tartare aller-retour and tidy it off with a strawberry shortcake with lots of whipped cream…?

Yep, there are too many yummy definitions in this one!

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end. Consider sharing this Word Confusion with friends by tweeting it.

Tartar Tartare Tarter
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Dictionary.com; Urban Dictionary

A round white plate with fried fish, french fries, a ramekin of tartar sauce with a glass of beer at the top of the plate.

Pessimist’s own work is in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

A traditional English meal of fish and chips, with beer, tartar sauce, and salt and vinegar crisps.

A fancy presentation of steak tartare on a square white plate with rays of chopped onion, mustard, parsley or chopped green onion, and possibly chopped bacon and a mushroom duxelle. An egg in a glass bowl is also present.

Melirius’ own work [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

A presentation of steak tartare in Milan.

Small pile of rolled-up and packaged SweeTarts

Image courtesy of the Candy Warehouse.

I do love me some SweeTarts!

Part of Grammar:
Noun 1, 2 Adjective, postpositive


Comparative adjective
From the base adjective: tart


A hard calcified deposit that forms on the teeth and contributes to their decay

  • A deposit of impure potassium hydrogen tartrate formed during the fermentation of wine

[Historical] A member of the combined forces of central Asian peoples, including Mongols and Turks, who under the leadership of Genghis Khan conquered much of Asia and eastern Europe in the early 13th century, and under Tamerlane (14th century) who established an empire with its capital at Samarkand

  • A harsh, fierce, or intractable person
  • One who proves to be unexpectedly formidable
[Of beef] A dish consisting of raw ground steak mixed with raw egg, onion, and seasonings

[Of fish] Fish served raw, typically seasoned and shaped into small cakes or a mound

A dish of raw flesh

Sharp or acid in taste

  • [Of a remark or tone of voice] Cutting, bitter, or sarcastic

[Slang] A male charmer who sleeps around

There is too much tartar build-up on your teeth. We’ll have to schedule you for a deeper clean.

Tartar is also known as cream of tartar, a useful ingredient in baking, candymaking, and whipping cream.

I adore tartar sauce with my fried fish!

The Tartars almost conquered Europe back in the day.

Jesus, he’s a regular tartar!

“Merciful god! but you’re a tartar, miss!” said the sheriff, ruefully.

It’s steak tartare tonight.

The specialty of the house is steak tartare.

Steak tartare is only similar to carpaccio in that both use raw beef.

Tuna tartare is made of raw tuna and similar to ahi sashimi.

Ceviche is a type of tartare as is poke.

These lemons are tarter than I expected.

Which do you think is tarter? SweeTarts or Smarties?

Man, she’s tarter than I remember.

He is such a tarter, charming all the girls.

Adjective: tartaric, Tartarian Adjective: tartish, tarty
Adverb: tartishly, tartly
Noun: tartness
History of the Word:
First known use: 14th century

1 Late Middle English via medieval Latin from the medieval Greek tartaron,which is of unknown origin.

2 From Old French Tartare or the medieval Latin Tartarus, and a modification of the Persian Tātār.

First known use: 1911

French and literally meaning Tartar.

The Old English teart meaning harsh or severe is of unknown origin.

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C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?