tar with the same brush


tar with the same brush


  • unfairly associate someone with others who share negative characteristics or behaviors.
  • to generalize and judge someone based on the actions or qualities of a similar group.
  • to attribute the same negative traits to multiple individuals without considering their individual differences.
  • unfairly categorize someone with a group, assuming they share the same faults or shortcomings.

Example Sentences

  1. Hey, don’t tar all politicians with the same brush; some are genuinely working for positive change.
  2. Don’t tar all gamers with the same brush just because a few are loud.
  3. Let’s not tar all cats with the same brush just because one scratched the sofa.
  4. Just because one chef burned the toast doesn’t mean we should tar them all with the same brush.
  5. We shouldn’t tar all introverts with the same brush; some just prefer smaller gatherings.

Origin and History

The idiom “tar with the same brush” originated in the 17th century and has its roots in the practice of using tar as a sealant or coating for various materials, particularly wooden surfaces such as fences or buildings. In this context, the phrase “tar with the same brush” was used literally to refer to the act of applying tar evenly with a brush, ensuring consistency in the coating.

In the process of waterproofing ships or wooden structures, a single brush was often used for applying the tar. If one part of the structure was tainted with tar, then subsequently, other parts painted with the same brush would also be affected, regardless of their original state.

Metaphorically, this imagery was applied to people or things being unfairly grouped together based on the negative actions or qualities of a few. The idiom reflects the idea of unjustly associating individuals with a common negative trait or behavior. Its exact origins in written records may be difficult to pinpoint, but its usage likely evolved from practical experiences with painting and the metaphorical extension of its implications to human behavior.

The idiom “tar with the same brush” has its earliest printed record dating back to the 17th century. It appears in Thomas Shelton’s translation of the Spanish novel “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes, published in 1612. The exact phrase used in Shelton’s translation is:

“The said Almanzar did help to tarre them all with one and the same brush.”

Share your opinions2 Opinions

What about “tarring others with your own brush?” Meaning to project your own faults and values onto others. Like how an honest merchant only worries about being deceived after it happens, but a dishonest merchant fears it every minute because he tars others with his own brush.

Also, I find it a more credible origin for this phrase to lie with sailors and sheep daubers than criminals. The unpleasant task of applying new pitch to maintain the waterproofing of the ship or boats could be considered a good punishment for miscreants, who would end up with tar sticking to them in the process, especially when the young mischief-makers start getting it deliberately on each other, ending up literally tarred with the same brush. Of course, if you see one known miscreant with another tar-splattered youth, it is easy to assume they are both troublemakers!

‒ JaDe February 22, 2022

I think the sheep idea won’t work because it’s about tarring sheep and maybe another herd, but the phrase is about shame, and you won’t shame a sheep. Now I’ll just wipe the spit up. The tar and feather idea works if you do the same to another person or group, and then they are getting tarred with the same brush.

‒ Chriss May 13, 2021

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