Taboo is a Polynesian term that means “the forbidden . ” The concept allows mentioning behaviors or actions that are prohibited or censored by a human group due to cultural, social or religious issues.

Taboos are usually established on what is considered unnatural . Anyone who breaks a taboo commits a foul and is punished, either from the legal aspect (when the offense is a crime and involves a violation of the law) or social (through discrimination, public conviction, etc.).

Most of the taboos arise from the cultural tradition, although some can also be developed from the dominant political interests. Taboo, ultimately, always represents a restriction to the field of action of the people .

Among the various types of existing taboos we should highlight those that refer to the prohibition of pronouncing certain words or phrases. Specifically, Chinese culture is the one that has perhaps encouraged and developed more such restrictions in language, such as when it comes to naming certain emperors, sanctities or ancestors.

Fans of the literary and film saga “Harry Potter”, created by the writer JK Rowling, for example, know that the characters at the beginning of it also had a taboo in this line. Thus, it was forbidden to say the name of Voldemort, who is the antagonist, the lord of the dark side who wants to take over the world.

In this sense, we also have to highlight the existence of a board game called Tabú. And it is that in it the contestants have to guess a word through the descriptions of others. Of course, the latter are prohibited from using certain concepts that would allow that one to be known quickly.

The notion of taboo changes with history and depends on each community. A subject can even develop a behavior considered taboo by society but that does not cause him any rejection. In these cases, it is customary for such conduct to be carried out in private or in secret, to avoid public prosecution.

The cannibalism is one of the most widespread taboos. Eating human flesh is considered aberrant by the vast majority of people. Other food taboos are more limited, such as eating pork (something condemned by Judaism but common to Catholics, for example).

Sexuality includes many taboos, some widespread (such as incest or zoophilia ) and others that are obsolete today ( homosexuality , premarital sex ).

In addition to all of the above, it should be noted that in 2012 the movie “Taboo” was released. Originally from Portugal is one that is part of the dramatic genre and that takes three different people as protagonists: an old woman with a lot of character, the caretaker that she has and the neighbor.

The last two women will be those who, when the first one dies, discover that in the past the woman lived a love story full of passion and adventures in African lands.


To find the etymology of the term first we have to take into account that it reaches Spanish from the English word ‘taboo’ , because it was introduced in Europe, in the last quarter of the 18th century, by the British navigator and explorer James Cook , who He heard it for the first time on his trip to Polynesia in the form of ‘tapu’.

The Polynesians used that term to refer to what was forbidden, they could not touch, name, eat or perform in the most sacred aspect of their religious convictions. He who skipped the norm and broke the ‘tapu’ was severely punished.

Taboos and Euphemisms

Taboos are the words that refer to issues considered unpleasant by a culture and, therefore, are considered foul, vulgar and in bad taste. They usually refer to four fundamental issues: sex; the eschatological (excrement and certain parts of the body); death and disease; Religion and the supernatural. Not all words in the language have the same consideration among speakers. While most of them are used without qualms in any situation, some have a much more restricted use because they are considered inelegant, offensive or inappropriate. Taboo words are called that because speakers tend to avoid them in formal situations.

The bad words or tacos, generalized in colloquial speech, are related to linguistic taboos. These are isolated words or short sentences without meaning, which allow the speaker to express their emotions and tensions, their aggressiveness and violence, their surprise and even their joy. Euphemisms are often resorted to by changing the significance of tacos, curses and profanity. Thus, the reference to God has been disguised in ten, and the devil in hell.

Euphemisms are the words or expressions that speakers use instead of taboo words. Thus, many people use the euphemisms intimate parts by sexual organs; make greater waters to defecate; go to a better life to die; or the evil one by the Devil; Blind by blind or person entered in years by old. Just as the use of a taboo word may sound in certain circumstances as rude, the use of a euphemism sometimes sounds affected, ridiculous or inappropriate. This is the case, for example, with terms such as pee or pompis.
Knowing how to adapt the words to the different communicative situations is an indication of our mastery of the language; Therefore, it should be borne in mind how inappropriate it can be to use a taboo term in a formal situation such as opting for a euphemism in a colloquial or familiar one.

Some examples of taboos and euphemisms

Taboos – Euphemisms

Hallucinations – perceptual alterations
Abnormality – exceptionality
Prison – prison center or facility
Deficiency – disability
Madness – psychic disability Getting
high – self-stimulating
Sick – patient
Mentally retarded – person of late development
Suicide – voluntary death
Mass dismissal – employment regulation
Insult – verbal aggression
Mother-in-law policy
Civilian victims – collateral years
Prostitute – public or street woman
Pornography – adult material
Jailer – prison officer
Prisoner – inmate or inmate
Black – colored
Torture – persuasion methods
War – military intervention
Terrorist –
Fat activist – entered into meat
Dying – leaving
Parir – lighting
Nurse – clinical assistant
Cancer – deadly or long illness
Expulsion – temporary exclusion
Toilet – toilet, service

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