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Word for the Wise January 16, 2007 Broadcast Topic: Taboo

Back on this date in 1919, the 18th Amendment—the first amendment dealing with social issues—was ratified. One year later to the day, Prohibition was upon the land; and alcohol—its manufacture, transportation, import, export, and sale, if not its actual consumption—was taboo. (来源:英语学习门户网站EnglishCN.com)

13 years later, Prohibition was over and alcohol once again flowed throughout the land. We're exaggerating a bit: the supply of alcohol never truly dried up; it simply was made illegal and perhaps taboo.

“Perhaps” taboo? That's right; your opinion on the aptness of that term may depend on which sense of taboo you are thinking of. The adjectival taboo has two senses: the more familiar "banned on grounds of morality or taste;" or "banned as constituting a risk;" and the original "forbidden to profane (or secular) use or contact because of what are held to be dangerous or superhuman powers."

That original sense dates to the late 1700s, when Captain James Cook visited what he called "the Friendly Islands" (Tonga) of the South Pacific when the explorer noted the Tongans used the term tabu for certain items considered too venerable to be part of everyday life.

That label soon caught on, retaining its foreign mystique, while prohibited was applied to things forbidden due to the issuance of statutes, laws, or regulations.

 
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