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taboo

or ta·bu

[ tuh-boo, ta- ]
/ təˈbu, tæ- /
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See synonyms for: taboo / tabooed / tabooing on Thesaurus.com

adjective
noun, plural ta·boos.
verb (used with object), ta·booed, ta·boo·ing.
to put under a taboo; prohibit or forbid.
to ostracize (a person, group, etc.): While he is tabooed, no one may speak to him.

OPPOSITES FOR taboo

1 allowed, permitted, permissible; sanctioned.
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Origin of taboo

First recorded in 1770–80; from Tongan tabu “forbidden, prohibited”; the spellings tabu and taboo both appear in Captain James Cook's journal in 1777

synonym study for taboo

See forbid.

historical usage of taboo

Captain James Cook, the English navigator, explorer, and cartographer, used and defined tabu, taboo (he used both spellings) as “a word of a very comprehensive meaning but [which] in general signifies forbidden,” in an entry in his journal in 1777 during his third voyage when he visited the island of Tongatapu, the main island of the Kingdom of Tonga and the location of its capital.
Tabu is also the variant in some other Polynesian languages of Melanesia and Micronesia. In Maori (the Polynesian language spoken on New Zealand), the form is tapu, which is also the reconstructed Proto-Polynesian form. Hawaiian has the variant kapu (Hawaiian changes Polynesian initial t- to k- ).
Use of tabu, taboo as a noun and verb is only in English: all the Polynesian forms are adjectives.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

HOMEWORK HELP

What is taboo?

Taboo describes an activity or behavior that is considered completely unacceptable or forbidden. A taboo is also the prohibition from engaging in such an activity or behavior through social rules, laws, religious doctrine, and even by your own conscience.

Something considered taboo is considered unacceptable by the vast majority of a person’s social group. Often, there is a serious punishment for performing the taboo activity.

Many activities that we refer to as crimes are examples of taboos, such as theft, murder, and kidnapping. These activities are considered unacceptable by the government or the law and have strict punishments.

Sacred religious writings also outline specific activities as taboo and shouldn’t be done by the religion’s followers. For example, Jewish law considers pork to be taboo, so many Jewish people do not eat pork.

Sometimes, taboos are so unacceptable to a society that laws are not needed to forbid people from doing them. Even thinking about them or reading about them can make you feel disgusted, which gives you an idea of how powerful the label of taboo can be.

Why is taboo important?

The first records of taboo come from around 1770. It comes from the Tongan word tabu, which means “forbidden” or “prohibited.”

What is and isn’t considered taboo often depends on the culture or beliefs of a particular society. For example, cannibalism is widely considered taboo, but it has actually been practiced by a number of societies throughout history, such as the ancient Aztecs.

Interestingly, a taboo can be so thoroughly ingrained into a person’s mind that they will not perform the activity even if it is unlikely they will be punished for it. For example, a person dying of hunger may choose not to resort to cannibalism even if it means they will die because they consider the act so horrible that they cannot live with the thought of having done it.

Did you know ... ?

Captain James Cook wrote both taboo and tabu for this term in his 1777 journal. He learned about the word on a visit to the island of Tongatapu. Other Pacific islands have similar words for the same idea, such as the Maori tapu and the Hawaiin kapu.

What are real-life examples of taboo?

Having a mental health problem, such as depression, is still considered taboo in some societies, even though a person doesn’t choose to be depressed.

The word taboo is often used to refer to behavior that a person feels is unacceptable in their society.

What other words are related to taboo?

Quiz yourself!

Which of the following is NOT a synonym of taboo?

A. unthinkable
B. acceptable
C. prohibited
D. banned

How to use taboo in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for taboo

taboo

tabu

/ (təˈbuː) /

adjective
forbidden or disapproved of; placed under a social prohibition or bantaboo words
(in Polynesia and other islands of the South Pacific) marked off as simultaneously sacred and forbidden
noun plural -boos or -bus
any prohibition resulting from social or other conventions
ritual restriction or prohibition, esp of something that is considered holy or unclean
verb
(tr) to place under a taboo

Word Origin for taboo

C18: from Tongan tapu
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Medical definitions for taboo

taboo

n. pl. ta•boos
A ban or an inhibition resulting from social custom or emotional aversion.
adj.
Excluded or forbidden from use, approach, or mention.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Cultural definitions for taboo

taboo

A descriptive term for words, objects, actions, or people that are forbidden by a group or culture. The expression comes from the religion of islanders of the South Pacific.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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