con·​tra·​band | \ ˈkän-trə-ˌband How to pronounce contraband (audio) \

Definition of contraband

1 : illegal or prohibited traffic in goods : smuggling … persons the most bound in duty to prevent contraband— Edmund Burke
2 : goods or merchandise whose importation, exportation, or possession is forbidden Border police searched the car for drugs and other contraband. also : smuggled goods
3 plural contrabands : an enslaved person who during the American Civil War escaped to or was brought within the Union lines

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Other Words from contraband

contraband adjective

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Contraband first appeared in English in the early 1500s as a borrowing of Italian contrabbando. This Italian word can be traced to the Medieval Latin word contrabannum, a combination of "contra-" ("against") and "bannum" ("decree"). "Bannum" is Germanic in origin and is related to Old High German bannan ("to command"). "Bannan" is also related to Middle English "bannen" ("to summon or to curse"), the source of the English verb "ban" (which now means "to prohibit" but which once also meant "to curse").

Examples of contraband in a Sentence

The border police searched the car for drugs and other contraband.
Recent Examples on the Web Corrections officials argued that digitizing inmates’ mail is necessary to reduce the amount of contraband coming into the prison system, which houses about 80,000 inmates and employs 24,000 workers. Dara Kam,, 8 Sep. 2021 Investigators eventually found the handgun, along with handmade weapons and other contraband. Paul Best, Fox News, 27 Aug. 2021 Apple is going to be looking for a specific kind of contraband on your personal device going forward. Andy Meek, BGR, 26 Aug. 2021 Baker said the search turned up homemade weapons and other contraband., 18 Aug. 2021 The state’s prison system plans to scan virtually all incoming inmate mail and provide digital copies to inmates to thwart a new form of contraband also being seen nationwide: drugs smuggled into prison by soaking them in paper. From Usa Today Network And Wire Reports, USA TODAY, 17 Aug. 2021 In the colonial period, slave patrols — set up to surveil and police Black people and preserve the institution of slavery — raided enslaved people’s dwellings for weapons and contraband. Washington Post, 25 June 2021 A year later, seven South Carolina inmates died in the deadliest U.S. prison riot in years, a gang fight officials said began over territory and contraband including cellphones. Meg Kinnard, Star Tribune, 8 July 2021 Saylor confiscated the contraband, and Cooley was arrested. NBC News, 30 June 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'contraband.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of contraband

circa 1540, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for contraband

borrowed from Middle French & Italian; Middle French contrebande, borrowed from Italian contrabando (later contrabbando), originally Upper Italian (Venetian) chontrabando (Medieval Latin of Venice contrabannum), from contra- contra- + bando "proclamation, edict, law," borrowed from Gothic bandwo "sign, signal" — more at band entry 3

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Time Traveler for contraband

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The first known use of contraband was circa 1540

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Last Updated

16 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Contraband.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Sep. 2021.

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More Definitions for contraband



English Language Learners Definition of contraband

: things that are brought into or out of a country illegally


con·​tra·​band | \ ˈkän-trə-ˌband How to pronounce contraband (audio) \

Kids Definition of contraband

: goods forbidden by law to be owned or to be brought into or out of a country


con·​tra·​band | \ ˈkän-trə-ˌband How to pronounce contraband (audio) \

Legal Definition of contraband

: property that is unlawfully produced, possessed, or transported
contraband per se
: property that is in and of itself unlawful to possess, produce, or transport
derivative contraband
: property that is unlawful because it is used in committing an unlawful act

History and Etymology for contraband

Italian contrabbando act of smuggling, from contra- against + bando edict, law


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