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[kon-truh-band] /ˈkɒn trəˌbænd/
anything prohibited by law from being imported or exported.
goods imported or exported illegally.
illegal or prohibited trade; smuggling.
International Law. contraband of war.
(during the American Civil War) a black slave who escaped to or was brought within the Union lines.
prohibited from export or import.
Origin of contraband
1520-30; earlier contrabanda < Spanish < Italian contrabando (now contrabbando), equivalent to contra- contra-1 + Medieval Latin bandum, variant of bannum ban2
Related forms
noncontraband, noun, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for contraband
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The servant included in the above pass was a "contraband," picked up in Washington for the trip.

    War from the Inside Frederick L. (Frederick Lyman) Hitchcock
  • Of this state of things we were informed by a contraband we chanced to meet.

  • He listened to me with great impatience, and asked if my father still pursued his contraband trade.

    The Mysteries of London, v. 1/4 George W. M. Reynolds
  • He wanted its earrings—they were contraband of war, I suppose.

    Romance Joseph Conrad and F.M. Hueffer
  • Third, neutral goods, with the exception of contraband of war, are not liable to capture under an enemy's flag.

British Dictionary definitions for contraband


  1. goods that are prohibited by law from being exported or imported
  2. illegally imported or exported goods
illegal traffic in such goods; smuggling
(international law) Also called contraband of war. goods that a neutral country may not supply to a belligerent
(during the American Civil War) a Black slave captured by the Union forces or one who escaped to the Union lines
(of goods)
  1. forbidden by law from being imported or exported
  2. illegally imported or exported
Derived Forms
contrabandist, noun
Word Origin
C16: from Spanish contrabanda, from Italian contrabando (modern contrabbando), from Medieval Latin contrabannum, from contra- + bannum ban, of Germanic origin
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
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Word Origin and History for contraband

1520s, "smuggling;" 1590s, "smuggled goods;" from Middle French contrebande "a smuggling," from older Italian contrabando (modern contrabbando) "unlawful dealing," from Latin contra "against" (see contra) + Medieval Latin bannum, from Frankish *ban "a command" or some other Germanic source (see ban (v.)).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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contraband in Culture

contraband definition

Goods illegally transported across borders to avoid the payment of taxes.

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