Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Acronyms, Wikipedia.
See J. G. Frazer, Taboo and the Perils of the Soul (3d ed. 1955); S. Freud, Totem and Taboo (1960, orig. 1918); M. Douglas, Purity and Danger (1970).
tabuany ritual prohibition on certain activities. The term originally comes from Captain Cook's description of Polynesian custom. It may involve the avoidance of certain people, places, objects or actions, and the universal incest taboo is a much cited example of the latter. Much work on this area has been carried out from within anthropology in an attempt to explain why, for instance, different foods are avoided within various cultures. Functionalists prefer explanations of taboo and TOTEMISM in terms of group solidarity, whilst structuralists, such as M. DOUGLAS in Purity and Danger (1966), have focused on taboos as a problem in classifying ambiguity.
(1) A prohibition in preclass societies against touching, taking, or using a thing or person deemed sacred. The violation of a taboo is supposed to bring supernatural reprisal.
The taboo custom was first described in 1771 by the explorer J. Cook in reference to the aborigines of the Tonga Islands. In the Polynesian culture, everything relating to the divine, or supernatural, and hence everything belonging to priests and chiefs was taboo. The notion of taboo apparently originated in conjunction with the need in formative societies to regulate individual behavior according to the interests of the group. Taboos thus governed the most important aspects of a person’s life, such as the observance of laws or customs regarding exogamy. Food taboos were also widespread. Vestiges of the taboo custom are preserved in modern religions; the Christian concept of sin, for example, is analogous to taboo.
REFERENCESTakarev, S. A. Rannie formy religii i ikh razvitie. Moscow, 1964.
Semenov, Iu. I. Kak vozniklo chelovechestvo. Moscow, 1966.
(2) In linguistics, a taboo is a word whose use is either forbidden or scrupulously avoided because of religious beliefs, superstitions, social prohibitions, or the like. In Russian, for example, the word “bear” is substituted by commercial hunters with such expressions as “master of the house,” “clown,” or simply “he.”
M. V. KRIUKOV