ta·boo also ta·bu (tă′b, tə-)
n. pl. ta·boos also ta·bus
1. A ban or inhibition resulting from social custom or emotional aversion.
a. A prohibition, especially in Polynesia and other South Pacific islands, excluding something from use, approach, or mention because of its sacred and inviolable nature.
b. An object, word, or act protected by such a prohibition.
Excluded or forbidden from use, approach, or mention: a taboo subject.
tr.v. ta·booed, ta·boo·ing, ta·boos also ta·bued or ta·bu·ing or ta·bus
To exclude from use, approach, or mention; place under taboo.
[Tongan tabu, under prohibition, from Proto-Polynesian *tapu.]
Word History: The word taboo first appears in English in the journals of Captain James Cook, the British explorer who led three expeditions to the Pacific Ocean and greatly broadened European knowledge about the peoples living on the Pacific islands. In 1777, Cook wrote that the word "taboo ... has a very comprehensive meaning; but, in general, signifies that a thing is forbidden.... When any thing is forbidden to be eat, or made use of, they say, that it is taboo." Cook was in Tonga at the time, and so it is the Tongan form tabu that is the source of the English word taboo. However, words related to Tongan tabu are found in other Polynesian languages, such as Maori tapu and Hawaiian kapu. (In the history of Hawaiian, the original Polynesian t-sound has regularly changed to a k-sound.) Other words Cook brought back from his journeys include tattoo (also of Polynesian origin) and kangaroo (from Guugu Yimidhirr, a language of Australia).
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