or ta·bu

[ tuh-boo, ta- ]
See 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.

  1. (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)

    • the system, practice, or act whereby things are set apart as sacred, forbidden for general use, or placed under a prohibition or interdiction.

    • the condition of being so set apart, forbidden, or interdicted.

  1. 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

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.

word story For 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.

Other words for taboo

Opposites for taboo Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use taboo in a sentence

  • Taboos of first chapter indicate that in the early ages the fear of contamination by woman predominated.

    Taboo and Genetics | Melvin Moses Knight, Iva Lowther Peters, and Phyllis Mary Blanchard
  • The vast amount of evidence in the taboos of many peoples of dualism in the attitude toward woman.

    Taboo and Genetics | Melvin Moses Knight, Iva Lowther Peters, and Phyllis Mary Blanchard
  • I have no moral or psychological taboos against killing dictators, or anybody else.

    Hunter Patrol | Henry Beam Piper and John J. McGuire
  • Even in parts of Christendom it is girt about by rigid taboos, so that its practise tends to be restricted to a few occasions.

    Damn! | Henry Louis Mencken
  • Marriage-customs have always been a fertile field for the generation of taboos.

    Pagan & Christian Creeds | Edward Carpenter

British Dictionary definitions for taboo



/ (təˈbuː) /

  1. forbidden or disapproved of; placed under a social prohibition or ban: taboo words

  2. (in Polynesia and other islands of the South Pacific) marked off as simultaneously sacred and forbidden

nounplural -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

Origin of 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

Cultural definitions for 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.