Definition of taboo in US English:



  • 1A social or religious custom prohibiting or forbidding discussion of a particular practice or forbidding association with a particular person, place, or thing.

    • ‘During the Civil War, hungry Northern soldiers, unaware of the social taboo surrounding peanuts, began eating them.’
    • ‘The members of one clan from northern Kenya observe a taboo on eating fish.’
    • ‘What drove him to shatter taboos and invite hatred for his conclusions?’
    • ‘The thrill is in breaking taboos, and that is why taboos are fun to have around.’
    • ‘Breaking cultural taboos in this attempt to make money does not seem to matter.’
    • ‘I'm surprised because the film wasn't about breaking taboos.’
    • ‘Both Islam and the Orthodox Christian tradition require rigorous observance of fasts and food taboos.’
    • ‘Many in India are reluctant to talk about Aids and prevention because of societal taboos about discussing sex.’
    • ‘All of these are thought to be dependent on the ability to observe taboos.’
    • ‘Accurate statistics are hard to come by, especially in a country where social taboos and threats keep many victims silent.’
    • ‘For her, the relaxing of rules and taboos about sex have been pivotal in changing the way we think.’
    • ‘The Communist Party decided to dramatise its rather unique willingness to challenge taboos.’
    • ‘Our country has substantial number of disabled people who have excelled in various walks of life, overcoming poverty and social taboos.’
    • ‘The strategy broke powerful religious taboos against suicide and the murder of innocents.’
    • ‘Through mythology, one is able to violate the taboos of society without the guilt.’
    • ‘The thing is that they're also trained to violate the ultimate taboo of society - to kill people.’
    • ‘There are no food taboos, although Buddhist monks may practice vegetarianism and observe other food taboos.’
    • ‘Cultural taboos surrounding sexuality and pregnancy also contribute to the low rates of health service access.’
    • ‘The cabaret performers and their audiences shared a more or less hidden opposition to social taboos and censorship.’
    • ‘Many people are too scared to risk pursuing a homosexual relationship, with all the social taboos attached to homosexuality.’
    prohibition, proscription, veto, interdiction, interdict, ban, restriction, boycott, non-acceptance, anathema
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    1. 1.1 A social practice that is prohibited or restricted.
      ‘speaking about sex is a taboo in his country’
      • ‘The taboo of speaking about colonial sex is often at the heart of many of her images, which often resemble fashion photography.’
      • ‘The taboos regulating the sight of bare flesh are further determined by wider cultural considerations.’
      • ‘Is there a taboo against the use of weapons of mass destruction?’
      • ‘To talk favourably of the Enlightenment has become something of a taboo in recent years.’
      • ‘Knowing incest is an "unclean" act heightens the awareness of the taboo she is violating.’
      • ‘Until we get rid of the taboo of simply talking about it, we're not going anywhere.’
      • ‘The incident drew national media attention and ignited a public debate over the ancient taboo of black men having sexual relations with white women.’
      • ‘The breakdown of the politically correct liberal open-mindedness into frenzied intolerance of criticism and the taboo of peace was dramatic and instantaneous.’
      • ‘Because of the taboo associated with this topic no real dialogue can take place.’
      • ‘The court cases have undoubtedly had the merit of removing the taboo over reporting excision by the populations concerned and among doctors, social workers, etc.’
      • ‘I'm just puzzled why he put himself at risk by breaking probably the biggest taboo in US politics, i.e. criticising the Jewish community or Israel.’
      • ‘He was referring to the postwar taboo in official political circles on justifying Japan's wartime actions or advocating militarism - publicly at least.’
      • ‘Now the Internet comes along, letting you circumvent one of the strictest taboos of all: It lets you talk to strangers.’
      • ‘The media taboo against naming "victims" is also weakening.’
      • ‘The 1992 elections changed the taboo associated with Zionist parties relying on the Arab parties to form a government.’
      • ‘We are now violating an even deeper family taboo.’
      • ‘Most importantly to feminism, do not support commercial manufacturers who use menstrual taboos to help sell their products.’
      • ‘Prostitution is in this country a taboo; people don't like to admit that it exsists.’
      • ‘The Communist Party decided to dramatise its rather unique willingness to challenge taboos.’
      • ‘Yet for all their attempts to break taboos, what makes Americans most uncomfortable is the portrayal of intimacy between men.’


  • 1Prohibited or restricted by social custom.

    ‘sex was a taboo subject’
    • ‘Certain subjects are taboo, or too emotive to be examined with objectivity.’
    • ‘As society engages in dialogue on these issues no subject will be taboo.’
    • ‘Divorce is still taboo in some cultures - find an immigrant family that has been rocked by one.’
    • ‘But his live show is much more casually cruel, and no matter how sensitive a subject, nothing is taboo for his one-liners.’
    • ‘But whether it should be taboo even to discuss such issues, as some are arguing, is another question.’
    • ‘As a writer, he comes across as someone who feels that by trumpeting loudly about a taboo subject he is breaking down social barriers.’
    • ‘Al-Jazeera gives air-time to their Arab leaders' opponents and to ordinary viewers and discusses taboo political and social topics.’
    • ‘The fact that the subject is taboo also means that a man who is traumatized by the experience may be retraumatized again and again, with each child born to him.’
    • ‘The topic is so taboo that it almost can't be talked about.’
    • ‘For many it is a taboo subject which leaves people feeling isolated and vulnerable.’
    • ‘Information and counseling on once taboo subjects are now freely available, yet traditional mores still predominate.’
    • ‘In the not too distant past, talk of sex was strictly taboo.’
    • ‘Contraception and abortion - once taboo topics - have been enshrined into law.’
    • ‘Previously taboo areas were opened for examination, and laws and legal attitudes were modified.’
    • ‘On a day for women, culturally taboo subjects like female sexuality can be openly acknowledged.’
    • ‘Once taboo, birth control and family planning are quietly available to discreet couples.’
    • ‘In front of the big screen this behaviour is generally considered taboo.’
    • ‘Hearing them talk, you'd have thought the very subject was taboo: awe, wonder and, yes, fear crept into their voices.’
    • ‘Why do you think sex is still so taboo in the U.S.?’
    • ‘Our culture has become distinctly sexualised over the past 20 years, and subjects that were once taboo are now openly discussed.’
    forbidden, prohibited, banned, proscribed, vetoed, ruled out, interdicted, outlawed, not permitted, not allowed, illegal, illicit, unlawful, impermissible, not acceptable, restricted, frowned on, beyond the pale, off limits, out of bounds
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    1. 1.1 Designated as sacred and prohibited.
      ‘the burial ground was seen as a taboo place’
      • ‘Christianity was another force that was gradually eliminating dangers from spirits based at taboo sites.’
      • ‘Totems of specific clans, healers, or royal dynasties are taboo to certain members of some ethnic groups.’
      • ‘As they saw it, many details concerning clan histories and taboo places have been forgotten over the past few generations.’
      • ‘Not only taboo places but also mountain tops were known to be frequented by spirits.’
      • ‘The hornets are numerous down in that cave; we do not touch it; it is taboo.’
      • ‘I mean it doesn't mean that I want to be rude, it's not that, it's just that you go to certain spaces that are taboo.’
      • ‘In the Solomon Islands, shrines are always taboo places.’


[with object]
  • Place under prohibition.

    ‘traditional societies taboo female handling of food during this period’
    • ‘Online communities allow a degree of security in, and can hence facilitate, the declaration of socially marginalized or tabooed identities, such as gay, lesbian or various fetish orientations.’
    • ‘Clearly it was she, and felt sorry for the creature outside, that she was tabooed never to speak with.’
    • ‘The inside of the tabooed room leads to the outside; here too it constitutes an inside of the external local world associated with modernity.’
    • ‘Sacred and tabooed beliefs also work as membership badges in coalitions.’
    • ‘That these kinds of magazines have been tabooed in our society; forced universally under mattresses, in private drawers, and into unmarked brown boxes.’
    • ‘Rooted in an era that tabooed discussions of sex, he rebounded to the opposite extreme and exaggerated the roles of sex and sexual conflict in the development of the psyche.’
    • ‘She asks whether statutory rape laws really protect girls, or serve to target them by making them sexually tabooed and, hence, more attractive.’
    • ‘As the child accepts that bodily products such as excrement and vomit are tabooed as repugnant and dirty, simultaneously it begins to form concepts of cleanliness and propriety that work toward defining the emergent sense of selfhood.’
    • ‘As for myself, I no longer care for chemical research, and science is a tabooed topic in my household.’
    • ‘Almost all animal flesh is edible and nutritious, yet most human societies taboo many of the animal species available to them.’
    • ‘Conversely, in some cultures, when a person dies, his or her name and similar sounding words may be tabooed, so new words have to be coined or borrowed.’
    • ‘Some magic users, magicians, and quite strong ones at that, decided that magic shouldn't be tabooed and decided to rebel against the society that had made them outsiders for so long.’


Late 18th century: from Tongan tabu ‘set apart, forbidden’; introduced into English by Captain Cook.