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May 12 2016


A Look at Taboo

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Throughout history, ethics, morals and general social conduct have been around in a state of constant flux, to this type of extent that lots of practices that have been considered unacceptable in the past are now perhaps the most common constituent of our own lives. The social conventions which govern many facets of any period are essentially an amalgamation of tradition, innate morality (if this will be conceived as existent); which are generally somewhat enforced by ideological state apparatus from the ilk in the church and racial heritage; along with the laws of that time period and place, as upheld with the governing body through repressive state apparatus including the police and as a consequence the judicial system. A most forceful and interesting example of this can be to be found in our knowledge of the word 'taboo'.

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Inside a number of his essays entitled "Totem and Taboo" first published in 1919,Sigmund Freud posits amongst other pursuits, his interpretation in the role of taboo in both background and the current day, ultimately linking it with all the actions and views of neurotics. Freud, in Chapter 2: Taboo as well as the Ambivalence of Emotions presents the intriguing paradox that: "For us this is of taboo branches off into two opposite directions. Also it indicates to all of us sacred, consecrated: but alternatively it means, uncanny, dangerous, forbidden, and unclean." (P41)

Because this apparent contradiction of definitions indicates; the age old thought of taboo: within the eyes of Freud focuses upon prohibitions and needs. Within the text, Freud elaborates that in ancient civilisation, particularly in Polynesia; taboo served several functions. Not just did it guard those in power against assassination via a network of superstitions which prevented direct contact from a chief and a common man, but in addition fulfilled the same task in protecting the vulnerable. Simultaneously, taboo out of the box stated in the quotation from Northcote W. Thomas' article on the subject within Totem and Taboo, protected your property from theft, prevented the intake of particular animals and substances and barred interaction together with the corpses from the dead. Consequently it may be judged that taboo is usually held that need considering that which through threat of negative repercussions, has limitations or prohibited.

In his summary of the splendid little tome: 'The Wordsworth Dictionary of Obscenity and Taboo', James McDonald gives an outline of how through which taboos are employed in world rather than like a universal concept: "In practice, therefore, our chosen taboos reflect our communal attitudes, has 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 towards the imposition of euphemisms to avoid direct utterance of particular socially prohibited terms. Therefore these euphemisms themselves gain taboo status as a consequence, you are likely to presume, from the familiarity as a result of persistent usage, which often grants them a much closer connection to encounter or object of taboo compared to the term they served to switch.

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