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A glance at Taboo

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Throughout history, ethics, morals and general social conduct have been in a situation of constant flux, to this extent that lots of practices that had been considered unacceptable in the past are a typical constituent of our lives. The social conventions which govern many aspects of virtually any period are essentially a combination of tradition, innate morality (if this shall be conceived as existent); which are generally at some level enforced by ideological state apparatus from the ilk in the church and racial heritage; and the laws almost daily make, as upheld from the governing body through repressive state apparatus including the police and thus the judicial system. A most forceful and fascinating instance of this can be offered in our comprehension of the word 'taboo'.


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In a variety of his essays entitled "Totem and Taboo" first published in 1919,Sigmund Freud posits amongst other items, his interpretation from the role of taboo in the history and the modern day, ultimately linking it with all the actions and views of neurotics. Freud, in Chapter 2: Taboo and the Ambivalence of Emotions presents the intriguing paradox that: "For us the meaning of taboo branches off into two opposite directions. On the other hand it means to all of us sacred, consecrated: but however this means, uncanny, dangerous, forbidden, and unclean." (P41)

Since this apparent contradiction of definitions would suggest; well-known notion of taboo: from the eyes of Freud focuses upon prohibitions and needs. Within the text, Freud elaborates that in ancient civilisation, especially in Polynesia; taboo served several functions. Not only that guard those in power against assassination by way of a network of superstitions which prevented direct contact between a chief along with a common man, but also fulfilled an identical task in protecting the vulnerable. Simultaneously, taboo as they are stated in the quotation from Northcote W. Thomas' article on the subject within Totem and Taboo, protected an individual's property from theft, prevented the consumption of particular animals and substances and barred interaction using the corpses of the dead. Consequently it may be judged that taboo is normally held that need considering truley what through threat of negative repercussions, is restricted or prohibited.

As part of his summary of the sumptuous little tome: 'The Wordsworth Dictionary of Obscenity and Taboo', James McDonald gives an outline of how where taboos operate in contemporary society rather than as being a universal concept: "In practice, therefore, our chosen taboos reflect our communal attitudes, it comes with recently English speakers have tended to stigmatize sex and excretion must say something about our collective mentality." (p6 1988) As McDonald indicates; taboo leads inevitably to the imposition of euphemisms in order to avoid direct utterance of particular socially prohibited terms. Therefore these euphemisms themselves gain taboo status consequently, one could presume, with the familiarity as a result of persistent usage, which experts claim grants them a much closer connection to the action or object of taboo compared to the term they served to replace.