The Oxford Handbook of Taboo Words and Language

Keith Allan (Editor)

Research output: Book/ReportEdited Bookpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


The Oxford Handbook of Taboo Words and Language defines taboo as a proscription of behaviour for a specifiable community of one or more persons at a specifiable time in specifiable contexts. What is in fact tabooed is the use of those words and language in certain contexts; in short, the taboo applies to instances of language behaviour. For behaviour to be proscribed it must be perceived as in some way harmful to an individual or their community but the degree of harm can fall anywhere on a scale from a breach of etiquette to out-and-out fatality. All tabooed behaviours are deprecated and they lead to social if not legal sanction. Taboos are described and the reasons and beliefs behind them are investigated. Tabooed words are typically dysphemistic, think of insults and swearing; tabooed language is avoided through various kinds of euphemism. In twenty chapters, the volume offers comprehensive coverage of tabooed language as perceived by experts in general linguistics, cultural linguistics, sociolinguistics, anthropological linguistics, psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, historical linguistics, linguistic philosophy, forensic linguistics, politeness research, publishing, advertising, and theology. Although the principal focus is the English language, reference is occasionally made to linguistic taboos in other languages in order to compare sociocultural attitudes. The existence of taboos and the need to manage taboo lead not only to the censoring of behaviour and the imposition of censorship but also to language change and language development.

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOxford UK
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages464
ISBN (Print)9780198808190
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Avoidance-language
  • Censorship
  • Dysphemism
  • Euphemism
  • Insult
  • Language change
  • Language development
  • Proscribed behaviour
  • Swearing
  • Taboo

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