• taboo •
Pronunciation: tê-bu • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A curse or other social prohibition against an object or action. 2. Anything culturally or socially forbidden, unacceptable, especially if considered profane.
Notes: Today's Good Word has an alternate spelling: tabu. It may be used as an adjective, as something too taboo to discuss openly or a taboo word. It is occasionally used as a verb, as to taboo certain topics in political speeches.
In Play: Taboo began its life as a religious constraint: "In many societies even mentioning the names of gods is taboo." As soon as it touched English soil, it spread to society at large: "The 'n-word' is taboo now in English." Children learn early on that when their parents spell out a word, that word must be taboo, so must be learned as soon as possible.
Word History: Captain Cook was responsible for this word creeping into English; it was taken from a journal entry published in 1777. He was in Tonga at the time he wrote the journal, but similar words occur in other Polynesian languages spoken in some of the islands of Vanuatu, Kiribati, and Papua New Guinea. The general Polynesian and Maori form it tapu, though in Hawaiian it is kapu. In Fijian and some languages of the Solomon Islands, it is tambu, and in New Britain both tabu and tambu can be heard. All these words have accent on the first syllable. English apparently followed the French pronunciation of its own version, tabou, which is accented on the second syllable. (Forgetting to thank Joyce Felton for her suggestion of today's exotic Good Word is taboo here at alphaDictionary.)