We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Taboo?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Language & Humanities is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Language & Humanities, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A taboo is a prohibition against a particular activity, usually rooted in cultural or moral beliefs. Objects, people, and places may also be described as taboo, meaning that they are forbidden or that specific rules surround them. The term “taboo” comes from the Tongan word tabu, and it was introduced to English by Captain Cook, who took note of Polynesian traditions surrounding taboos, along with the word, during his expeditions in the area. Many cultures have a history of some form of taboo, even if this word was not specifically used.

In some cases, a taboo applies to something which is considered so sacred that special rules surround the way in which people may interact with it. For example, Catholics and other Christians who take communion believe that dropping the Host on the ground is taboo, because the Host is sacred and it must be treated with special care and respect. Other taboos are related to things which are viewed as profane, as seen in the menstrual taboos common to many cultures, in which women were kept confined during their menstruation because they were believed to be unclean.

Some taboos appear to have a root in logical behavior. Many cultures have taboos surrounding the handling of the dead, spoiled food, and other activities which could be dangerous, and it is possible that what started out as practical advice turned into a taboo as a society evolved. Likewise, many cultures have complex rules about how to behave around royalty which undoubtedly stemmed from concerned rulers who wanted to consolidate and strengthen their power. Other taboos do not appear to have a rational basis on the surface, but they are still rigidly observed.

People may also jokingly reference a “taboo subject,” referring to something which is not considered polite or appropriate conversation. In a group of people of mixed political beliefs, politics may be a forbidden subject, and subjects like bodily functions are considered inappropriate at the dinner table in many societies.

Individuals who fail to observe taboos are usually considered to be rude, and in some cases, their offenses may be considered punishable by law. People who plan to interact with individuals from a different cultural background are often advised to study up on social rules and forbidden activities so that they do not inadvertently cause offense by violating a taboo. Numerous texts deal with specific social norms in cultures around the world so that people can prepare for trips, business negotiations, and other types of interactions in which taboos may become an issue.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By whiteplane — On Apr 06, 2012

I think that cannibalism is the ultimate worldwide taboo. In almost very single society there has been some kind of strict prohibition against it. This has often gone beyond just being a law to being a cultural wide revulsion to the idea. It is not something that people even want to do.

By ZsaZsa56 — On Apr 05, 2012

People often thrill in breaking taboos or in rejecting taboos, but they are an important part of having an ordered society and we all live by certain taboos even if we never articulate them.

Taboos often get associated with sexual behavior but they apply in all areas of life. There are social taboos, business taboos, family taboos, friend taboos. Taboos are really about boundaries, the things you have decided are acceptable and unacceptable. Those are important choices for all of us to make.

By Ivan83 — On Apr 05, 2012

Taboos are interesting concepts because they are so relative. Think about what is taboo in our society. It would probably be a pretty long list but not everything on that list would be equal.

For instance, adultery would probably be on there because no one likes adultery and it often has large negative consequences. Yet adultery is common and something that lots of people experience. We are against it and yet it happens all the time with relatively little punishment. Compare that to pedophilia which we have decided is unacceptable in every circumstance and have levied very heavy penalties against. Both of these are taboos but we react to them in very different ways.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.