Taboo words and language: an overview

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Taboo refers to a proscription of behaviour for a specifiable community of one or more persons at a specifiable time in specifiable contexts. 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. Shared taboos are a sign of social cohesion. This chapter surveys the history of taboo, fatal taboos, uncleanliness taboos, exploitation of taboos, swearing, censoring, taboo as a source of language change, and finally reviews the content of this handbook.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Taboo Words and Language
EditorsKeith Allan
Place of PublicationOxford UK
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages27
ISBN (Print)9780198808190
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Publication series

NameOxford Handbooks in Linguistics
PublisherOxford University Press


  • Avoidance-language
  • Dysphemism
  • Euphemism
  • Insult
  • Proscribed behaviour
  • Swearing
  • Taboo

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