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or tabu

[tuh-boo, ta-] /təˈbu, tæ-/
proscribed by society as improper or unacceptable:
Taboo language is usually bleeped on TV.
prohibited or excluded from use or practice:
In art school, painting from photographs was taboo.
(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 taboos.
a prohibition or interdiction of anything; exclusion from use or practice:
One of the strongest taboos in all modern societies is against incest.
  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.
exclusion from social relations; ostracism.
verb (used with object), tabooed, tabooing.
to put under a taboo; prohibit or forbid.
Antonyms: allow, permit, sanction.
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 Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for taboo
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Where the taboo regulations were strict, no one was allowed to venture close to the chief or even to speak his name.

  • It is like taboo, and is, in fact, the form of taboo in high civilization.

    Folkways William Graham Sumner
  • Because of our ideals of individual liberty, this may not be achieved by taboo, ignorance or conscription for motherhood.

    Taboo and Genetics Melvin Moses Knight, Iva Lowther Peters, and Phyllis Mary Blanchard
  • Like taboo, it has two aspects,—it is either destructive or protective.

    Folkways William Graham Sumner
  • When the mass of men emerged from slavish obedience and made democracy inevitable, the taboo entered upon its final illness.

    A Preface to Politics Walter Lippmann
British Dictionary definitions for taboo


forbidden or disapproved of; placed under a social prohibition or ban: taboo words
(in Polynesia and other islands of the South Pacific) marked off as simultaneously sacred and forbidden
noun (pl) -boos, -bus
any prohibition resulting from social or other conventions
ritual restriction or prohibition, esp of something that is considered holy or unclean
(transitive) to place under a taboo
Word Origin
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
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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
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taboo in Medicine

taboo ta·boo or ta·bu (tə-bōō', tā-)
n. pl. ta·boos or ta·bus
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.
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taboo in Culture

taboo definition

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 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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