from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A viscous black liquid containing numerous organic compounds that is obtained by the destructive distillation of coal and used as a roofing, waterproofing, and insulating compound and as a raw material for many dyes, drugs, and paints.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A black, viscous tar made by the destructive distillation of coal (to make coke and town gas); it contains a great number of compounds including hydrocarbons and phenols; used in the preparation of medicated soap and shampoo, and industrially for the manufacture of very many products.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • A thick, black, tarry liquid, obtained by the distillation of bituminous coal in the manufacture of illuminating gas; used for making printer's ink, black varnish, etc. It is a complex mixture from which many substances have been obtained, especially hydrocarbons of the benzene or aromatic series.
  • n. See in the Vocabulary.
  • n. See in the Vocabulary.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A thick, black, viscid, opaque liquid which condenses in the pipes when gas is distilled from coal.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a tar formed from distillation of bituminous coal; coal tar can be further distilled to give various aromatic compounds


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  • The high-temperature combustion of coal generates a complex and highly variable stew of all sorts of compounds, largely but not exclusively hydrocarbons. Most of these combustion products are airborne gases, others are solids in ash, and the rest comprise the viscous liquid known as coal tar. This thick, dark-brown goo was carcinogenic—Yamagiwa had proved that—but Kennaway wanted to know why. Identifying the particular ingredients responsible would be a huge step toward understanding and preventing cancer.
    Dan Fagin, Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation (New York: Bantam Books, 2014), p. 163.

    February 7, 2016