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

The test marks progress on the state-level quest to stamp out contraband cellphone use, which officials have long said represents the top security threat within their institutions. Meg Kinnard, The Seattle Times, "Cellphone jamming tested at South Carolina state prison," 12 Apr. 2019 Three government services—the Customs, Coast Guard, and Prohibition Bureau—are directly involved in the battle to keep out contraband articles and collect the frontier tolls on others. Popular Mechanics Editors, Popular Mechanics, "Rewind: What Guarding Uncle Sam's Borders Was Like in 1925," 11 Feb. 2019 The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Mr. Shkreli, 35 years old, is largely running his former drug company, Phoenixus AG, from his prison cell in Fort Dix, N.J., via a contraband smartphone. Rob Copeland, WSJ, "Bureau of Prisons Opens New Investigation Into Martin Shkreli," 8 Mar. 2019 For more than a year, Evangeline Hunt smuggled drugs, tobacco and other contraband to at least one inmate at the maximum-security prison southeast of Charlotte, court records state. Gavin Off And Ames Alexander, charlotteobserver, "High-ranking Crip 'wooed' NC prison officer. The FBI ended their romance. | Charlotte Observer," 26 Mar. 2018 Reducing contraband was one of several factors the prisons director cited at the time in support of the move. Andrew Welsh-huggins,, "Milkman accused of sneaking drugs, phones into Warren County prison," 28 Feb. 2018 Kids fed, scrubbed, be-mittened and checked for contraband Silly Bandz before being lined up at the front door. Charlotte Hilton Andersen, Redbook, "It's Friday the 13th: What's Your Mommy Superstition?," 13 Jan. 2012 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

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

29 Apr 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

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