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Related: banned - forbidden - sociology - transgression - prohibition - censorship

Willem Frederik Hermans's essay bundel Het Sadistische Universum I features an essay on taboos. Hermans recounts that Polynesia he sees in a sign in a park on a lawn. On the sign was written tabu, meaning forbidden to trod on.

Le Fantôme de la liberté - (1974) Luis Buñuel

One of the finest examples of the way that taboos are socially constructed is a scene in Buñuel's 1974 Le Fantôme de la liberté where bourgeois couples discuss defecation around a toilet-lined table but consider "food" a taboo. They excuse themselves to eat food in private.


A taboo is a strong social prohibition, which can relate to any area of human activity. Breaking of the taboo is considered abhorrent by the society.

Taboos can include dietary restrictions (halal and kosher diets, religious vegetarianism, cannibalism for example), restrictions on sexual activities and relationships (homosexuality, incest, bestiality, pedophilia, scatology), and use of language.

No taboo is known to be universal, but some (such as incest taboo) occur in the majority of societies. Taboos may serve many functions, and often remain in effect after the original reason behind them has expired. Some have argued that taboos therefore reveal the history of societies when other records are lacking. --http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taboo, Aug 2003

Word History

Among the many discoveries of Captain James Cook was a linguistic one, the term taboo. In a journal entry from 1777, Cook says this word “has a very comprehensive meaning; but, in general, signifies that a thing is forbidden.... When any thing is forbidden to be eat, or made use of, they say, that it is taboo.” Cook was in the Friendly Islands (now Tonga) at the time, so even though similar words occur in other Polynesian languages, the form taboo from Tongan tabu is the one we have borrowed. The Tongans used tabu as an adjective. Cook, besides borrowing the word into English, also made it into a noun referring to the prohibition itself and a verb meaning “to make someone or something taboo.” From its origins in Polynesia the word taboo has traveled as widely as Cook himself and is now used throughout the English-speaking world. --The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language

Totem and Taboo; Some Points of Agreement Between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics - Sigmund Freud

Totem and Taboo; Some Points of Agreement Between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics - Sigmund Freud
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Totem and Taboo: Resemblances Between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics is a book written by Sigmund Freud published in German as Totem und Tabu: Einige Übereinstimmungen im Seelenleben der Wilden und der Neurotiker in 1913. It was a collection of four essays which had been published in the journal Imago from 1912-1913 as an application of psychoanalysis to the fields of archeology, anthropology, and the study of religion. Of the four essays — "The Horror of Incest", "Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence", "Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thoughts", and "The Return of Totemism in Childhood" — the last was the most unique and wide-ranging in its argument. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Totem_and_Taboo [Dec 2006]

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