Taboo – Concept, history, examples and relation to the euphemism

We explain what is a taboo, why they are rejected and various examples. Also, the relationship between taboo and understatement.

The taboo is considered the antecedent of the law and the right.

What is a taboo?

A taboo it is an unspoken or implied prohibition within a society, for moral, religious or traditional reasons, whose violation can bring with it a real punishment or simply derision, social rejection. In many contexts they are considered primitive antecedents of law and law.

In other words, a taboo is something considered wrong, misleading, or in bad conscience, usually without anyone announcing or explaining it, since the taboo is even better not to mention it. In fact, mentioning it is already considered a form of violation of the norm. Taboos are usually hidden and shameful contents of the culture of a society.

The word “taboo” is of Polynesian origin (Tongan, Samoan or Maori) and in its original context it meant “prohibition”. It was a form of sacred law of the Polynesian peoples, which not only controlled the behavior, but also prevented the mention of even that which was prohibited, except by the priests or shamans, who possessed the manna or sacred power to pronounce it.

The term was incorporated into Western languages ​​thanks to Captain James Cook (1728-1779) in the year 1777, along with other exotic terms such as “kangaroo.”

However, taboos existed in almost all ancient societies and continue to exist today, although they respond to moral principles, rather than sacred explanations. In general, taboos can refer to sexual behaviors, eating practices, use of certain words, and so on.

Examples of taboo

Some contemporary examples of taboo are as follows:

  • Specific diets imposed by certain religions, I eat the food kosher Jewish, prepared by specific rites of bleeding animals and never mixing blood and milk; or diet halal of Muslims. In both, the pig is totally prohibited.
  • Certain sexual practices considered deviant or aberrant such as pedophilia, necrophilia or bestiality. Even prostitution, homosexuality and masturbation, frowned upon for centuries by Christian morality, are today little mentioned in society.
  • The pronunciation of “bad words” it is a fairly general taboo, which controls the terms whose use in public is regarded as in good taste or in bad taste.
  • The rites of pagan or unofficial religionsFrom an ecclesiastical point of view, they are taboo for their faithful and followers: witchcraft, Santeria, Satanism, etc. Similarly, cannibalism, incest, and ritual human sacrifice are strongly taboo behaviors in most human cultures.

Taboo and understatement

Given that taboos are restrictions that also hide what is forbidden in language, that is, they also prohibit openly speaking about what is taboo, the use of euphemisms is common to refer to what the taboo hides. That is, instead of using the forbidden words or names, others are used to figuratively express the same thing.

A perfect example of this is the way we refer to the sexual organs, a region of the body strongly taboo in modern societies. Instead of saying “penis”, figurative or allusive terms are used such as “little bird”, “stick”, “whistle”, etc .; And the same goes for female genitalia and even breasts.