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

Not just with bonfires, but companionship, rites of passage, sloppy first kisses, maybe a contraband brewski or two. Los Angeles Times, "‘Burning Man in the South Bay’: A crazy beach party aglow with bonfires and tradition," 29 Aug. 2019 Passengers often forget about contraband items like pocket knives or even firearms stored in luggage that will get confiscated. Natalie B. Compton,, "These are the airports with the best and worst TSA wait times," 28 Aug. 2019 But contraband has always been here in one form or another. Maria Verza, USA TODAY, "Mexico’s forgotten border town mixes sun, sand, crime and drug trafficking," 27 Aug. 2019 But contraband has always been here in one form or another. Washington Post, "Mexico’s Playa Bagdad mixes sun, sand and drug trafficking," 27 Aug. 2019 Perry is being held at Metro Corrections on a wanton endangerment charge and a contraband promotion charge. Sarah Ladd, The Courier-Journal, "Man smuggled drugs to Louisville inmate underneath a stamp, police say," 26 Aug. 2019 All narcotics and contraband was seized during the arrests. Michelle Iracheta, Houston Chronicle, "Five arrested in northwest Houston narcotics bust: Methamphetamine, xanax seized," 20 Aug. 2019 Jail officials called the items contraband in a disciplinary report. Skyler Swisher,, "Jeffrey Epstein’s unusual lockup detailed in records, from jailhouse panties to contraband facial exercise manual," 19 Aug. 2019 Inmates say they are forced to pay their debts with money, food, tasks (such as carrying contraband for the gangs) or Green Dots (an online currency used by inmates). Jerry Mitchell, ProPublica, "Inside The Prison Where Inmates Set Each Other On Fire and Gangs Have More Power Than Guards," 19 Aug. 2019

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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Statistics for contraband

Last Updated

2 Sep 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).


agony, or difficult or painful work

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