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Definition of Taboo

(noun) A forbidden act considered so offensive to norms, particularly mores (moral norms) as to be reviled and unthinkable.

Examples of Taboo

  • bestiality: Having sex with animals.
  • cannibalism: Eating human flesh.
  • incest: Having sex with a family member.
  • infanticide: Killing a child, particularly an infant.

Taboo Scholars

Taboo Pronunciation

Pronunciation Usage Guide

Syllabification: ta·boo

Audio Pronunciation

– American English
– British English

Phonetic Spelling

  • American English – /tuh-bOO/
  • British English – /tuh-bOO/

International Phonetic Alphabet

  • American English – /təˈbu/
  • British English – /təˈbuː/

Usage Notes

Related Quotations

  • “It is taboo in most of the world to disturb the remains of deceased ancestors except under the most limited of circumstances. Nevertheless, cemeteries are sometimes subject to disturbance. Historically, destruction of burial sites has often been the first act of dominion a conqueror imposes on the vanquished precisely because of its demoralizing effect on the local population. To desecrate means to treat contemptuously, often in a way that demeans for the progeny the importance or values of their ancestor’s remains and the sacred sites of disposal” (Davidson 2003:448).
  • “Since mores . . . are based on cultural values and considered to be crucial to the well-being of the group, violators are subject to more severe negative sanctions (such as ridicule, loss of employment, or imprisonment) than are those that fail to adhere to folkways. The strongest mores are referred to as taboos” (Kendall 2006:56).
  • “There is reliable evidence that suicide was present in most primitive tribes around the world, almost always associated with evil spirits, revenge, and unappeased anger. These attitudes in the form of superstitions and fears of magic found their way into Christianity as taboos that have persisted to this day. Attitudes toward suicide, however, have shown great variability depending on the culture and the part of the world. In primitive societies suicide was variously used as a means to exact vengeance, as a way of placing responsibility for the death on the person who had supposedly caused it, and as a way of embarrassing an adversary” (Farberow 2003:796).
  • “Violation of taboos is punishable by the group or even, according to certain belief system, by a supernatural force. The incest taboo which prohibits sexual or marital relations between certain categories of kin, is an example of a nearly universal taboo” (Kendall 2006:56).

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Additional Information

Related Terms


Davidson, Glen W. 2003. “How Death Came Into the World: Human Remains.” Pp. 448–49 in Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying, edited by R. Kastenbaum. New York: Macmillan Reference USA.

Farberow, Norman L. 2003. “Suicide Basics: History.” Pp. 795–800 in Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying, edited by R. Kastenbaum. New York: Macmillan Reference USA.

Kendall, Diana. 2006. Sociology in Our Times: The Essentials. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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Cite the Definition of Taboo

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “taboo.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved March 4, 2024 (https://sociologydictionary.org/taboo/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

taboo. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/taboo/

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “taboo.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed March 4, 2024. https://sociologydictionary.org/taboo/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“taboo.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 4 Mar. 2024. <https://sociologydictionary.org/taboo/>.