Generations of historians have labored to nail down the origin of “Tar Heel.” Less attention has been paid the alteration — shrinkage? corruption? — of the term’s perceived meaning.
Most North Carolinians seem to have accepted the nickname, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, until mid-20th century — somewhere between the University of North Carolina’s redefining itself as a multicampus institution (1931) and Castleman D. Chesley’s introducing TV coverage of ACC basketball (1957).
Today the question “Are you a Tar Heel?” is likely to be met not by, say, “Born in Smithfield, live in Raleigh” but by “No, I went to State” or “I pull for the Deacons” or “Like hell, I’m a Duke fan.”
Have I got this right? And does anybody else see it as a loss to the vernacular?