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 : a slave 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

Did You Know?

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

At the time, all three officers were part of the now-defunct Passenger Enforcement Rover Team (PERT), which was responsible for identifying dangerous contraband and threats to national security. Fox News, "Customs officer involved in 'rape table' controversy pleads guilty; two others indicted," 2 Oct. 2018 At a Swedish border station, to be more specific, where a customs agent named Tina spends her days sniffing out contraband. Joe Morgenstern, WSJ, "Reviews: A ‘Border’ to Cross, a ‘Suspiria’ to Shun," 25 Oct. 2018 On May 24, corrections officials showed reporters a new tool to prevent contraband from entering the state’s 21 prison yards: small drones remotely piloted by two military veterans. W.j. Hennigan, Time, "Experts Say Drones Pose a National Security Threat — and We Aren’t Ready," 31 May 2018 Federal courts across the country had issued conflicting decisions on how best to balance the rights of inmates and detainees with the prison system’s need to keep contraband from being smuggled into the jails. Jan Hefler,, "Some 14,000 inmates were illegally strip-searched in Burlington County. Their court case settles for $2.4 million," 12 Apr. 2018 Every ship that clears from a foreign port, and every mailbag from overseas, is a potential carrier of contraband. Popular Mechanics Editors, Popular Mechanics, "Rewind: What Guarding Uncle Sam's Borders Was Like in 1925," 11 Feb. 2019 Youngblood was arrested Tuesday (May 16) on one count each of possession of a weapon by a felon, aggravated second-degree battery and introducing contraband in prison. Marie Simoneaux,, "Man awaiting murder trials at Orleans Parish jail stabs another inmate with a shank: warrant," 16 May 2018 As reports of misuse mounted, legislators responded by declaring heroin contraband, surrendering the drug to underground production and forfeiting the ability to regulate it in any way. Kathleen Frydl, Vox, "Why we should abolish ICE — and the DEA too," 14 Aug. 2018 And South Carolina officials blamed a prison riot that killed seven inmates in April on a turf war between gangs over territory, money and contraband items such as drugs and cellphones. Don Thompson, The Seattle Times, "APNewsBreak: Judges crack down on illicit inmate cellphones," 24 July 2018

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 1529, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for contraband

Italian contrabbando, from Medieval Latin contrabannum, from contra- + bannus, bannum decree, of Germanic origin; akin to Old High German bannan to command — more at ban

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Last Updated

18 Mar 2019

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Time Traveler for contraband

The first known use of contraband was circa 1529

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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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More from Merriam-Webster on contraband

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with contraband

Spanish Central: Translation of contraband

Nglish: Translation of contraband for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of contraband for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about contraband

Comments on contraband

What made you want to look up contraband? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


of or relating to a parable or parabola

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