Nonverbal Taboos: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Nonverbal Taboos
  • 1:34 Clothing Taboos
  • 2:40 Action Taboos
  • 3:40 Expression Taboos
  • 4:50 Gesture Taboos
  • 6:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, explore the ways in which nonverbal taboos can influence communication, and discover some common examples. Then test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Nonverbal Taboos

Don't do that. Why not? Because it's not polite. In the world of communication, some things are simply rude. Call someone a name? That's mean. Make a sarcastic comment? Rude. Laugh when someone trips on a banana peel? Okay, well, that sounds kinda funny, but most likely would be seen as impolite.

Something that evokes a breach of good manners is called a taboo and every culture has 'em. In terms of communication, taboos can actually be broken by more than just what you say aloud. Nonverbal communication, or the communicating of information without speaking, is something we are constantly doing, whether we're aware of it or not. We roll our eyes, cross our arms, look distracted. These communicate something about ourselves, something that other people pick up on. More than half of communication is nonverbal, so of course some of the most important social no-no's don't require you to say anything wrong; you just have to do something wrong.

Breaking a taboo can be a minor annoyance or a serious offense, and it can result in people rolling their eyes or chasing you out of town on a rail. It all depends on how seriously a culture feels about that taboo. This is why it's important to understand cultures before you visit them, but not today. Today, we are going to travel the world breaking nonverbal taboos. In other words, get it out of your system now before traveling for real.

Clothing Taboos

One of the first things many people notice about you is your clothing. This is true in most cultures and there are several taboos involved in what not to wear. And here we are in sunny Italy. Ah, bella Roma, home of a thousand gorgeous cathedrals and some of the greatest art in the world. Want to go see? Well, ya can't. Sorry, but those exposed shoulders, shorts and sandals mean that you aren't allowed in the cathedral; exposed legs are traditionally offensive in church.

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