English Language


Shiken premium Upgrade Banner

Uncovering the Meaning of Taboo Behavior

Taboo behavior is defined as actions or words that are considered socially unacceptable or forbidden in a specific culture or society. Walking naked in public, burping in someone's face, and stealing from the elderly are all examples of taboo behaviors. It is also considered taboo to use offensive language, such as calling someone a rude name or making unwanted sexual comments towards another person.

We are fully aware of the impact that language holds. The words we use can have the power to shock, offend, or discriminate against others. However, how do we determine which words are taboo? Do the same words hold the same taboo status in English-speaking countries such as the United Kingdom?

Content Notice: This article discusses sensitive topics and may contain offensive language. The aim of this article is to educate readers on important information and relevant examples of semantic reclamation. Our team, consisting of diverse members, has consulted individuals from the communities mentioned to deliver this information in a respectful manner and shed light on the history of these words.

The Origins of Taboo in the English Language

The English term "taboo" comes from the Tongan word "tapu" which means "to forbid" or "to prohibit". This concept was introduced into the English language by Captain James Cook in the 18th century when he described prohibited practices in Tahiti as "taboo".

Language prescriptivism involves standardizing language use and establishing rules for "good" or "correct" language usage. It is our society that determines which words and behaviors are considered taboo. Generally, words or actions are deemed taboo if they are considered obscene or profane. However, there are also other significant categories of taboos that overlap.

Swear words can be classified as either obscene or profane. For instance, the word "damn" may not be explicitly obscene, but our shared cultural and historical understanding of it has made it a common "swear word". Swearing can serve four functions: as an expletive to emphasize a statement, as an insult towards another individual, to show solidarity with a particular group, or as a stylistic choice to make a sentence more memorable.

Taboos often require the use of euphemisms in both verbal and written communication. Euphemisms are mild words or expressions used to replace more offensive ones. For example, "f*ck" may become "fudge" and "sh*t" may become "shoot".

When considering which words are appropriate to use in different settings, it is essential to be mindful and respectful of others.

Why the use of asterisks? In some cases, asterisks (*) are used to replace letters in taboo words as a euphemistic way to make written communication more acceptable in society.

Illustrations of Taboo Language

In most communities, the primary taboos include murder, incest, and cannibalism. However, there are many other topics and behaviors that are considered taboo and are therefore avoided in conversations.

What are some examples of taboo behaviors, habits, words and topics in different cultures and religions?

Cultural Taboos

Cultural taboos are highly contextual and vary according to different countries or societies. For instance, in some countries in Asia like Japan or South Korea, it is considered impolite to wear shoes inside someone's home or point your foot at another person as feet are seen as unclean. In Germany and the United Kingdom, spitting in public is considered offensive. Even certain words can be classified as taboo in different cultural settings.

For example, the term "fenian" originally referred to a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a nationalist organization in the 19th century dedicated to achieving Irish independence from British rule, consisting mostly of Catholics. However, in Northern Ireland today, "fenian" is viewed as an insulting and sectarian term used to refer to Catholics. While the Catholic community in Northern Ireland has reclaimed the word, it is considered taboo for British individuals and Northern Irish Protestants to use it in media or social settings due to ongoing political and cultural tensions between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

The Impact of Taboos: Understanding Cultural Beliefs and Behaviors

Taboos, or cultural restrictions, are unique to each society and may be unfamiliar to outsiders. When visiting a different country, it is crucial to research and be aware of any potential taboos or offensive language to show respect and promote cultural understanding.

Gender and Sexuality: Examining Hidden Taboos

In some cultures, discussions surrounding sexuality and menstruation are considered taboo. These topics can evoke feelings of disgust or fear, often due to beliefs about defilement or impurity.

By recognizing and respecting taboo behaviors and language, we can promote inclusivity and understanding in society.

Many religions and cultural institutions have established taboos around menstruation, often viewing it as unclean or disruptive. These taboos vary across cultures and are based on the concept of cleanliness.

The use of the hashtag #ThatTimeOfMonth in 2012, as a discreet reference to menstruation and its associated mood changes, highlights the continued existence of the menstrual taboo in the English language and the power of social media in reinforcing social norms.

The word "queer" has also been considered a taboo in the past, but has since been embraced and reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community in response to the AIDS epidemic and the need for visibility.

Similarly, homosexuality and non-heteronormative expressions of sexuality have long been seen as taboo in many societies, often associated with sin and immorality. This has led to these relationships being deemed as religious or legal offenses.

Beyond sexuality, certain actions and behaviors are considered religious taboos in many faiths. These include swearing, blasphemy, interfaith marriages, consumption of pork, receiving blood transfusions, and engaging in premarital sex. In some countries, theocratic government systems dictate what is considered morally permissible based on religious laws.

Taboos Throughout History: A Changing Landscape

During the Tudor period in Britain, blasphemy was strictly prohibited to prevent moral harm and suppress dissent against established religious beliefs. The censorship and punishment of heresy were also prevalent during this time due to frequent religious conflicts and changes in the religious landscape.

Moreover, cultural and societal norms greatly influence the concept of morality, which in turn shapes the establishment of taboos. This is evident in the censorship and banning of certain literary works, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World," and JD Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye," for their perceived obscene or profane content.

Taboos also exist regarding death and the deceased, such as avoiding contact and not speaking their name. In some cultures, it is customary to keep the body of the deceased in the family home for a period of time as part of the mourning process, while in others, this may be seen as taboo or uncomfortable.

Taboos can also extend to language, where certain words may be freely used in one language but are considered taboo in another due to cultural and linguistic differences.

In conclusion, taboos are shaped by religious, social, and cultural beliefs, and can greatly influence individual behavior and societal norms. As seen throughout history, these taboos are constantly evolving and are influenced by a multitude of factors.

The Importance of Context and History in Understanding Taboo Language

Certain words in non-English languages may share similarities with taboo words in English, causing confusion and discomfort. For example, the Thai word "phrig" means pepper, but in English it may sound like the taboo word "prick." This highlights how cultural context and historical events can shape and influence the taboo status of words.

Taboos are often reinforced through euphemisms, usage, and actions, but there is no universal list of taboo words as they are specific to different communities and contexts. For instance, same-sex relationships are no longer taboo in the UK in 2022, but it wasn't until 1967 that they were legalized. This demonstrates the constantly evolving nature of taboos.

In some countries, homosexuality was legalized in the 19th century, but the legal status of same-sex marriage is still under dispute in 2022.

The Impact of Taboos on Society: A Look at Censorship and Political Correctness

Believed to have serious repercussions such as illness, imprisonment, social exclusion, or even death, violating taboos is seen as a grave offense in many cultures. Additionally, censorship serves as a means of enforcing taboos by suppressing any speech or writing that is deemed subversive.

One of the most controversial words in the English language is the "C-word," with varying levels of offensiveness across different countries. Similarly, terms like "motherf*cker" and "f**k" may be considered taboo in certain English-speaking nations, but not in others.

Taboos also play a role in the concept of political correctness, which aims to steer clear of language that could be deemed offensive or stereotypical. However, merely avoiding taboo words in conversation does not eliminate their harmful connotations. This raises concerns about freedom of speech and the understanding of taboo language, especially in non-Western contexts.

While some may view the transition towards more politically correct language as a negative development, as it can be seen as a way to control and sanitize language, others argue that it is a natural evolution of language over time.

The Takeaways on Taboos

  • Taboo words are determined by the context and history of a society and are continually changing.
  • Taboos are enforced through euphemisms, usage in language, and actions.
  • There is no universal list of taboo words, as they differ among communities and contexts.
  • Taboo words can have severe consequences and can often be used for language control and censorship.
  • Political correctness aims to avoid offense and stereotypes in language but merely eliminating taboo words does not erase their harmful implications.

The Meaning of Taboo: A Cultural and Historical Perspective

The term "taboo" originates from the Tongan word "tapu," meaning to ban or prohibit. Taboos arise when a particular behavior is deemed offensive, harmful, or uncomfortable within a society.

Some notable examples of taboos include incest, murder, cannibalism, the dead, and adultery. The concept of taboo was first introduced into the English language by Captain James Cook, who observed and documented taboo practices among the people of Tahiti in the 18th century.

All in all, taboos play a significant role in shaping language and society, constantly influencing and being influenced by cultural norms and beliefs. It is crucial to understand and respect taboos for effective communication and to avoid causing offense in diverse communities.

The Origin and Significance of the Word "Taboo"

The word "taboo" is used in several languages to describe behavior that is deemed immoral or socially unacceptable. Its origin can be traced back to the Polynesian language Tongan and has since been integrated into various languages worldwide.

The Most Taboo Term in the English Language

Without a doubt, the English language has a word that is considered the most taboo - the 'c-word.' This term is highly offensive in the United States and, to a lesser extent, in the United Kingdom. However, the definition and implications of a taboo word vary greatly depending on the cultural, social, and religious norms of a country, community, or group.

Join Shiken For FREE

Gumbo Study Buddy

Explore More Subject Explanations

Try Shiken Premium
for Free

14-day free trial. Cancel anytime.
Get Started
Join 20,000+ learners worldwide.
The first 14 days are on us
96% of learners report x2 faster learning
Free hands-on onboarding & support
Cancel Anytime