From the difference between:

Tabu is an alternative form of taboo.

And no further explanations provided.

Which one of them is the right one? Is it the difference between British and American English or something like this?

If both of them are right, then why? What's the history of the term after borrowing it from the Tongan language?


Taboo (adj.) is by far the more common spelling both in AmE and BrE (seeNgram). Tabu reflects the original term from Tongan tapu.

  • also tabu, 1777 (in Cook's "A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean"), "consecrated, inviolable, forbidden, unclean or cursed," explained in some English sources as being from Tongan (Polynesian language of the island of Tonga) ta-bu "sacred," from ta "mark" + bu "especially." But this may be folk etymology, as linguists in the Pacific have reconstructed an irreducible Proto-Polynesian *tapu, from Proto-Oceanic *tabu "sacred, forbidden" (compare Hawaiian kapu "taboo, prohibition, sacred, holy, consecrated;" Tahitian tapu "restriction, sacred, devoted; an oath;" Maori tapu "be under ritual restriction, prohibited"). The noun and verb are English innovations first recorded in Cook's book.


| improve this answer | |
  • Thank you, I have all of a sudden forgotten about the Ngram. Etymonline is helpful as well. – P. Vowk Feb 22 '17 at 10:37

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.