Taboo

The word taboo—in French, tabou—is an adjective, a noun, and a verb and is derived from the Tongan adjective tabu, which signifies something that is forbidden. Originally used in Polynesia, Melanesia, and New Zealand, the word denotes actions consecrated to a special use or purpose. A tabu may be restricted for the use of a god, a king, priests, or chiefs, while being forbidden for use by others, such as by a particular class—especially women—or by a particular person or persons. Taboo can mean “inviolable and sacred” or “forbidden and unlawful,” and it is also said of people who are perpetually or temporarily prohibited from carrying out certain actions, from food, or from contact with others (OED). The first known use of the word in English dates back to 1777, when British explorer James Cook wrote about his visit to the island Tonga: “When dinner …

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