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The Origin Of The Word ‘taboo’

Linguists rarely agree on the origins of a word. What makes the origin of taboo interesting, is the fact that multiple sources trace it back to the Polynesian word tapua or tupua, which means both sacred and menstrual blood.

The Dutch linguist Michael Elias wrote a book on the origins of taboo and also recites the Polynesian heritage of the word. According to Elias, the word was first written down by the legendary explorer Captain James Cook in his log in 1777, when he discovered The Friendly Islands, now better known as Tonga. He described tapua as a word with an all-encompassing meaning, but in general it points to something that is forbidden and absolutely can’t be touched.

The Oxford English Dictionary also points to the reports from Cook and other explorers as the origin of the word. Whether or not tapua actually means menstruation in Polynesian is unclear, but there’s no doubt about the general meaning from the start: not allowed or forbidden.

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Shen Schol

Shen Schol

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