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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
  • You've probably seen dogs working security at airports, sniffing for drugs, bombs and contraband food.
  • Undercover agents arrest a suspected rooster fighter while in possession of contraband birds.
  • But armed groups may still be able to get contraband minerals into these centres.
  • After the team on the ground searched the site, some of the contraband was destroyed with incendiary grenades and diesel fuel.
  • As a result, the diamond trade is awash in contraband.
  • Drugs and weapons aren't the only contraband in prisons these days.
  • The cartel has devised endless ways to hide contraband in commercial cargo and launder it through third countries.
  • contraband showtimes and ticket information by city or zip code.
  • The contraband cigarettes were then distributed from these storage facilities to others.
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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