or ta·bu

[tuh-boo, ta-]
See more synonyms for taboo on
  1. proscribed by society as improper or unacceptable: Taboo language is usually bleeped on TV.
  2. prohibited or excluded from use or practice: In art school, painting from photographs was taboo.
  3. (among the Polynesians and other peoples of the South Pacific) separated or set apart as sacred; forbidden for general use; placed under a prohibition or ban.
noun, plural ta·boos.
  1. a prohibition or interdiction of anything; exclusion from use or practice: One of the strongest taboos in all modern societies is against incest.
  2. (among the Polynesians and other peoples of the South Pacific)
    1. the system, practice, or act whereby things are set apart as sacred, forbidden for general use, or placed under a prohibition or interdiction.
    2. the condition of being so set apart, forbidden, or interdicted.
  3. exclusion from social relations; ostracism.
verb (used with object), ta·booed, ta·boo·ing.
  1. to put under a taboo; prohibit or forbid.
  2. to ostracize (a person, group, etc.): While he is tabooed, no one may speak to him.

Origin of taboo

1770–80; < Tongan tapu or Fijian tabu ‘forbidden, prohibited’

Synonym study

7. Forbid, inhibit, prohibit, taboo indicate a command to refrain from some action. Forbid, a common and familiar word, usually denotes a direct or personal command of this sort: I forbid you to go. It was useless to forbid children to play in the park. Inhibit implies a checking or hindering of impulses by the mind, sometimes involuntarily: to inhibit one's desires; His responsiveness was inhibited by extreme shyness. Prohibit, a formal or legal word, means usually to forbid by official edict, enactment, or the like: to prohibit the sale of liquor. Taboo, primarily associated with primitive superstition, means to prohibit by common disapproval and by social custom: to taboo a subject in polite conversation. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for taboo

Contemporary Examples of taboo

Historical Examples of taboo

  • Yet as Ahmed Antoun in his green turban, he was "taboo" at our little party.

    It Happened in Egypt

    C. N. Williamson

  • These topics were taboo and Captain Obed soon ceased to mention them.

    Thankful's Inheritance

    Joseph C. Lincoln

  • Now those names were taboo; or, at any rate, they might as well be.

    The Portygee

    Joseph Crosby Lincoln

  • There seemed to be no taboo on discussion of the Ids with him.

    Cubs of the Wolf

    Raymond F. Jones

  • The savage was afraid to utter the real name of his god, it was taboo.

British Dictionary definitions for taboo



  1. forbidden or disapproved of; placed under a social prohibition or bantaboo words
  2. (in Polynesia and other islands of the South Pacific) marked off as simultaneously sacred and forbidden
noun plural -boos or -bus
  1. any prohibition resulting from social or other conventions
  2. ritual restriction or prohibition, esp of something that is considered holy or unclean
  1. (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

Word Origin and History for taboo

1777 (in Cook's "A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean"), "consecrated, inviolable, forbidden, unclean or cursed," explained in some English sources as being from Tongan (Polynesian language of the island of Tonga) ta-bu "sacred," from ta "mark" + bu "especially." But this may be folk etymology, as linguists in the Pacific have reconstructed an irreducable Proto-Polynesian *tapu, from Proto-Oceanic *tabu "sacred, forbidden" (cf. Hawaiian kapu "taboo, prohibition, sacred, holy, consecrated;" Tahitian tapu "restriction, sacred;" Maori tapu "be under ritual restriction, prohibited"). The noun and verb are English innovations first recorded in Cook's book.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

taboo in Medicine


n. pl. ta•boos
  1. A ban or an inhibition resulting from social custom or emotional aversion.
  1. 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.

taboo in Culture


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.