Archive for May, 2013

Definition: “A ban or inhibition resulting from social custom or emotional aversion; an object, a word, or an act protected by such a prohibition.”1

Breakdown: What is intriguing about this definition of taboo is its use of the term “emotional aversion.” Aversion, in its simplest form, implies disgust. Emotions are universal on a general level, and yet completely subjective on an individual level. What one may find disgusting is not what another may find disgusting. Thus, emotional aversion places taboo into a subjective, individual, specific sort of ban. More than society placing chains around certain actions—a person places their own chains about actions that they dislike. Here, taboo becomes individualized and arbitrary, and for that taboo may not be bad so much as it is hated. But what is hated is not always bad. The second definition views taboo more as a means of protection, similar to it being too dangerous for society. But once again we run into this problem: one vs. all. What happens when society doesn’t want protection?

1 The Free Dictionary, “taboo,” accessed May 01, 2013,

Origin: Polynesian cultures in the South Pacific. The word taboo comes from the Tongan tabu. It was introduced into the English language later than 1771 by Captain James Cook.

Definition: According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, taboo can be defined as “the prohibition of an action based on the belief that such behavior is either too sacred and consecrated or too dangerous and accursed for ordinary individuals to undertake.”1

Breakdown: From this definition come numerous ideas. Here, it is clear that taboo has its roots in avoidance. However, by basing this avoidance in “belief” we lose the chance for universality. No person or culture believes the same things. For this very reason we find the fluidity in what is and isn’t taboo. What is “too sacred or consecrated” only coincides with religion, whereas what is “too dangerous” may apply to the secular or scared world. But what is an ordinary individual? Perhaps those whom are not mortals—gods? Or rather those thought of as having higher values than ordinary individuals: royalty, priests, celebrities? What Nietzsche called the Superman or Overman? This definition of taboo allows for the possibility of taboos not existing for a select group of people.

1 Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “taboo,” accessed May 01, 2013, EBchecked/topic/579821/taboo.