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 Jeff Dunn, Alabama’s corrections commissioner, said the state’s prisons have tried to cut down on contraband, using surprise searches and phone-sniffing dogs, but phones keep getting in. Dan Barry, New York Times, "‘Or I Will Stab You Right Now’: A Family’s Prison Extortion Nightmare," 8 Sep. 2020 He was sentenced to 15 years with three years to serve in the contraband case. Carol Robinson |, al, "Man acquitted in slaying of Hoover Iraq veteran gets 20 years in prison for rape," 2 Sep. 2020 The Hong Kong marine police, who patrol the waters around the island, have sophisticated surveillance capabilities, generally deployed to combat the smuggling of drugs, meat and other contraband. Shibani Mahtani, Washington Post, "Hong Kong refugees captured at sea spent months plotting daring dash to freedom," 31 Aug. 2020 Once the cars are in Mexico, there’s no way to legalize or register them because they’re considered federal contraband. Wendy Fry, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Each year, thousands of California cars head to Mexico. Some get into trouble there," 29 Aug. 2020 The men were pulled over for a traffic infraction around 2 p.m., according to reports, and a police dog indicated that the trunk of their car contained contraband, authorities said. Clifford Ward,, "Beach Park traffic stop leads to felony drug arrests, seizure of almost 7 pounds of meth, heroin and cocaine," 28 Aug. 2020 The 45-year-old Elyria man driving the car claimed that the contraband was left in his vehicle by an acquaintance. Bruce Geiselman, cleveland, "Juvenile charged with OVI in stolen vehicle ‘not looking for trouble’: Westlake Police Blotter," 22 Aug. 2020 On one side of the tall metal building that is itself reminiscent of a shipping container, the guts of a container are spilled out a few at a time, cut open and examined for contraband. Brooks Johnson, Star Tribune, "Phony Barbie dolls and stolen tech: Counterfeit seizures on the rise at Minnesota-Canada border," 8 Aug. 2020 Tampons and pads are no longer contraband at the upcoming bar exam for aspiring lawyers in Texas. Shannon Najmabadi,, "Texas lifts tampon ban at bar exam after complaints over discriminatory policy," 2 Aug. 2020

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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Time Traveler for contraband

Time Traveler

The first known use of contraband was circa 1529

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Statistics for contraband

Last Updated

15 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Contraband.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Sep. 2020.

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More Definitions for contraband


How to pronounce contraband (audio)

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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