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A taboo is a vehement prohibition of an action based on the belief that such behavior is either too sacred or too accursed for ordinary individuals to

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For other uses, see Taboo (disambiguation). Sociology
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A taboo is a vehement prohibition of an action based on the belief that such behavior is either too sacred or too accursed for ordinary individuals to undertake. Such prohibitions are present in virtually all societies. The word has been somewhat expanded in the social sciences to strong prohibitions relating to any area of human activity or custom that is sacred or forbidden based on moral judgment and religious beliefs. "Breaking a taboo" is usually considered objectionable by society in general, not merely a subset of a culture.

  • 1 Etymology
  • 2 Examples
  • 3 Function
  • 4 Modernity
  • 5 See also
  • 6 References
  • 7 Bibliography


The term "taboo" comes from the Tongan tapu or Fijian tabu ("prohibited", "disallowed", "forbidden"), related among others to the Maori tapu, Hawaiian kapu, Malagasy fady. Its English use dates to 1777 when the British explorer James Cook visited Tonga, and referred to the Tongans' use of the term "taboo" for "any thing is forbidden to be eaten, or made use of". He wrote:

Not one of them would sit down, or eat a bit of any thing.... On expressing my surprise at this, they were all taboo, as they said; which word has a very comprehensive meaning; but, in general, signifies that a thing is forbidden.

The term was translated to him as "consecrated, inviolable, forbidden, unclean or cursed". Tabu itself has been derived from alleged Tongan morphemes ta ("mark") and bu ("especially"), but this may be a folk etymology (note that Tongan does not actually have a phoneme /b/), and tapu is usually treated as a unitary, non-compound word inherited from Proto-Polynesian *tapu, in turn inherited from Proto-Oceanic *tabu, with the reconstructed meaning "sacred, forbidden". In its current use on Tonga, the word tapu means "sacred" or "holy", often in the sense of being restricted or protected by custom or law. On the main island, the word is often appended to the end of "Tonga" as Tongatapu, here meaning "Sacred South" rather than "Forbidden South".

Examples Cannibalism, Brazil. Engraving by Theodor de Bry for Hans Staden's account of his 1557 captivity.

Sigmund Freud posited that incest and patricide were the only two universal taboos and formed the basis of civilization. However, although cannibalism, in-group murder, and incest are taboo in the majority of societies, marriages between brothers and sisters occurred in Roman Egypt. Modern Western societies, however, do not condone such relationships. These familial sexual activities are criminalised, even if all parties are consenting adults. Through an analysis of the language surrounding these laws, it can be seen how the policy makers, and society as a whole, find these acts to be immoral.

Common taboos involve restrictions or ritual regulation of killing and hunting; sex and sexual relationships (primarily incest, necrophilia, miscegenation, adultery, fornication, pedophilia, homosexuality, voyeurism, bestiality, and masturbation, paraphilia, circumcision, heterosexuality, transgression, sexuality ecc...); reproduction (abortion, infanticide); the dead and their graves; as well as food and dining (primarily cannibalism and dietary laws such as vegetarianism, kashrut, and halal) or religious (treif and haram). In Madagascar, a strong code of taboos, known as fady, constantly change and are formed from new experiences. Each region, village or tribe may have its own fady.

Taboos often extend to cover discussion of taboo topics such as profanity, resulting in euphemisms and replacement of taboo words.

The word "taboo" gained popularity at times, with some scholars looking for ways to apply it where other English words had previously been applied. For example, J. M. Powis Smith, in his "The American Bible" (editor's preface 1927), used "taboo" occasionally in relation to Israel's Tabernacle and ceremonial laws, including Exodus 30:36, 29:37; Numbers 16:37,38; Deuteronomy 22:9, Isaiah 65:5, Ezekiel 44:19 and 46:20.

Albert Schweitzer wrote a chapter about taboos of the people of Gabon. As an example, it was considered a misfortune for twins to be born, and they would be subject to many rules not incumbent on other people.


Communist and materialist theorists have argued that taboos can be used to reveal the histories of societies when other records are lacking. Marvin Harris particularly endeavored to explain taboos as a consequence of ecologic and economic conditions.


Some argue that contemporary multicultural societies have taboos against tribalisms (for example, ethnocentrism and nationalism) and prejudices (racism, sexism, religious extremism).

Changing social customs and standards also create new taboos, such as bans on slavery; extension of the pedophilia taboo to ephebophilia; prohibitions on alcohol, tobacco, or psychopharmaceutical consumption (particularly among pregnant women); and the employment of politically correct euphemisms – at times quite unsuccessfully – to mitigate various alleged forms of discrimination.

Incest itself has been pulled both ways, with some seeking to normalize consensual adult relationships regardless of the degree of kinship (notably in Europe) and others expanding the degrees of prohibited contact (notably in the United States).

In medicine, professionals who practice in ethical and moral grey areas, or fields subject to social stigma such as late termination of pregnancy, may refrain from public discussion of their practice. Among other reasons, this taboo may come from concern that comments may be taken out of the appropriate context and used to make ill-informed policy decisions.

See also
  • Deviance
  • Etiquette
  • Naming taboos
  • Norm (sociology)
  • Public morality
  • Social stigma
  • Taboo on rulers
  • Taboo on the dead
  • Word taboo
  • Geis
  1. ^ a b Encyclopædia Britannica Online. "Taboo." Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Retrieved 21 Mar. 2012
  2. ^ Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, 11th Edition. "Taboo."
  3. ^ Dixon, Robert M. W. (1988). A Grammar of Boumaa Fijian. p. 368. ISBN 978-0-226-15429-9. 
  4. ^ Cook & King 1821, p. 462
  5. ^ Cook & King 1821, p. 348
  6. ^ (Cook & King 1821)
  7. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary. "Taboo."
  8. ^ "Online dictionary". Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  9. ^ Biggs, Bruce. "Entries for TAPU Prohibited, under ritual restriction, taboo". Polynesian Lexicon Project Online. University of Auckland. Retrieved 9 September 2012. 
  10. ^ Freud, Sigmund. Totem and Taboo.
  11. ^ Jones, Ashley. "Incest in Ancient Egypt" (PDF). 
  12. ^ Strong, Anise (2006). "Incest Laws and Absent Taboos in Roman Egypt". Ancient History Bulletin. 20
  13. ^ Lewis, N. (1983). Life in Egypt under Roman Rule. Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-814848-8. 
  14. ^ Frier, Bruce W.; Bagnall, Roger S. (1994). The Demography of Roman Egypt. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-46123-5. 
  15. ^ Shaw, B. D. (1992). "Explaining Incest: Brother-Sister Marriage in Graeco-Roman Egypt". Man, New Series. 27 (2): 267–299. JSTOR 2804054. 
  16. ^ Hopkins, Keith (1980). "Brother-Sister Marriage in Roman Egypt" (PDF). Comparative Studies in Society and History. 22 (3): 303–354. doi:10.1017/S0010417500009385. 
  17. ^ remijsen, sofie. "Incest or Adoption? Brother-Sister Marriage in Roman Egypt Revisited" (PDF). 
  18. ^ Scheidel, W. "Brother-sister marriage in Roman Egypt" (PDF). 
  19. ^ "The Synthetic Necessary Truth Behind New Labour’s Criminalisation of Incest". Social & Legal Studies. 23: 113–130. doi:10.1177/0964663913502068. 
  20. ^ "Roffee, James (2015). When Yes Actually Means Yes in Rape Justice. 72 - 91". 
  21. ^ "No Consensus on Incest? Criminalisation and Compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights". Human Rights Law Review. 14: 541–572. doi:10.1093/hrlr/ngu023. 
  22. ^ Schweitzer, Albert. African Notebook 1958. Indiana University Press
  23. ^ Marta Dyczok; Oxana Gaman-Golutvina (2009). Media, Democracy and Freedom: The Post-Communist Experience. Peter Lang. p. 209. ISBN 978-3-0343-0311-8. (subscription required)
  24. ^ Marvin Harris, India's Sacred Cow (PDF) 
  25. ^ Putnam, Robert D. (June 2007). "E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and community in the twenty-first century". Scandinavian Political Studies. Wiley. 30 (2): 137–174. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9477.2007.00176.x. The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture. 
  26. ^ S. Berlin, Frederick. "Interview with Frederick S. Berlin, M.D., Ph.D.". Office of Media Relations. Archived from the original on June 23, 2011. Retrieved 2008-06-27. 
  27. ^ Johann Hari (2002-01-09). "Forbidden love". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-04-11. 
  28. ^ Hipp, Dietmar (2008-03-11). "German High Court Takes a Look at Incest". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 2008-04-12. 
  29. ^ DONALDSON JAMES, SUSAN. "Professor Accused of Incest With Daughter". ABC Nightline. Retrieved 29 November 2011. 
  30. ^ Joanna Grossman, Should the law be kinder to kissin' cousins?
  31. ^ Harris, Lisa (2008). "Second Trimester Abortion Provision: Breaking the Silence and Changing the Discourse" (PDF). Reproductive Health Matters. 16 (31): 74–81. doi:10.1016/S0968-8080(08)31396-2. Retrieved 29 October 2015. 
  32. ^ O'Donnell, Jenny; Weitz, Tracy; Freedman, Lori (November 2011). "Resistance and vulnerability to stigmatization in abortion work". Social Science and Medicine. 73 (9): 1357–1364. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.08.019. 
Bibliography Look up taboo in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. Wikiquote has quotations related to: Taboo
  • Cook, James; King, James (1821). A voyage to the Pacific Ocean: undertaken by command of His Majesty, for making discoveries in the Northern Hemisphere : performed under the direction of Captains Cook, Clerke, and Gore : in the years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779, and 1780 : being a copious, comprehensive, and satisfactory abridgement of the voyage.  Printed for Champante and Whitrow ... and M. Watson; 1793.
  • Cook, James (1728–1779). "The Three Voyages of Captain James Cook Round the World". 5. London: A&E Spottiswoode. 
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Taboo Board Game
Taboo Board Game
Taboo Taboo, the laugh out loud, out-of-your-seat game of forbidden words. In the Taboo game, you need to get your team to guess the secret word, but the obvious clues are strictly off-limits. To get your team to say pinball, would you say arcade, game, flippers, tilt or roll? In this game you can't because all of those words are strictly forbidden. Get your team to guess as many words as you can while you race against the clock. But watch out; if you say a forbidden word, the other team will "squeak" you and you lose the word. Taboo can provide tons of fun and keep you sitting on the edge of our seat. You want your team to say the guess word on the card, but you can't use any of the forbidden words in your clues. Get ready for hilarious moments as you race against the clock to give your team the best descriptions and clues possible. If you say a forbidden word, you'll get interrupted with the squeaker and lose your turn. Are you ready for some nail-biting excitement and quick thinking? Can you get your team to say the word "snore" without using the words sleep, night, noise, or nose in your description? This unpredictable party game will keep you on your toes as you think fast and build up the points for each card guessed correctly. The team with the most points wins. Even if you have played the popular Taboo game before, this fun fast-paced game has been updated with 100-plus phrases not seen in previous versions. The content includes topics that are relevant to today's pop culture and hottest trends. Taboo, the exciting game of forbidden words.View larger If you say a forbidden word, you’ll get interrupted with the squeaker and lose your turn.View larger The content includes topics that are relevant to today's pop culture and hottest trends. View larger The game of unspeakable fun.View larger Updated content.View larger Fun and challenging.View larger For more information about Hasbro’s Corporate Social Responsibility efforts visit the Hasbro website. Features/Specifications ChallengingGive clues without using forbidden wordsUpdated phrases100-plus phrases not used in previous versionsTrendy topicsTopical content for today's game playersSignature squeakerTeams will "squeak" the squeaker to interrupt those who use forbidden words Fast-pacedRace against the timer to go through as many cards as you canAges 13 years and upFor 4 or more playersIncludes 260 cards, squeaker, sand timer, score pad, game-changer die and instructions

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Taboo Game Amazon Exclusive
Taboo Game Amazon Exclusive
Taboo Game Amazon Exclusive

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Midnight Taboo Game
Midnight Taboo Game
Midnight Taboo Game

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Taboo Game
Taboo Game
It's the exciting Taboo game that keeps players on the edge of their seats! Players try to get teammates to say the Guess word on the card without using any of the Taboo words in the clues. If the describer says a Taboo word listed on the card while giving the clues, they'll get interrupted with the electronic buzzer and lose a turn. Players keep the cards that were guessed correctly, and the team with the most cards wins the game. With 400 double-sided cards in this Taboo game, players will have plenty of words to choose from as they race against the clock to give teammates the best descriptions and clues possible. Hasbro Gaming and all related terms are trademarks of Hasbro.

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Jake Ross never had it easy. He's learned to accept he won't have the life his friends have. With an abusive, alcoholic for a father and a younger brother far too good for this world, all Jake focuses on is keeping his kid brother safe. But when their father goes one step too far and introduces Weldon to their lives, it sets off a series of events that will change all their lives.

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Taboo Buzzd Game
Taboo Buzzd Game
Taboo Buzzd GameShout it out and pass it on with Taboo Buzz'd! This exciting version of the classic Taboo game challenges you to guess fast and then pass for unspeakable fun! Your team has to guess words while you give clues, but don't say one of the Taboo words, or the other team is going to buzz you big-time. If your team can't guess without the Taboo words, you can skip to the next - or act out your clue! This electronic game is quick to set up and easy to play because the game unit keeps the score for you. If your team has the most points after 6 rounds, you're the Taboo Buzz'd winner!Hasbro and all related terms are trademarks of Hasbro.Features:Electronic Taboo Buzz'd game is unspeakable funGame challenges you to guess words without using certain clue wordsQuick setupAuto scoringIncludes game unit and instructions

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Bible Taboo
Bible Taboo
An obvious clue could be strictly TABOO! To get your team to say MOSES would you say, PRINCE, EGYPT, PLAGUES, PHAROAH, or COMMANDMENT? In this game you can’t because all of those words are strictly TABOO. Rattle off clues while the time counts down. You’ll earn a point each time your team guesses correctly. But watch what you say. If your opponents hear a TABOO word, you’ll get buzzed and they’ll get the point.

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Midnight Outburst - A New Party Game From the Creators of Taboo
Midnight Outburst - A New Party Game From the Creators of Taboo
A party game for trivia ninjas and flip cup champs alike! Name all 10 answers on the selected card in 45 seconds.

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