The word "taboo" is Polynesian origin and is defined in Webster's "a sacred prohibition put upon certain people, things or acts, which makes them untouchable, unmentionable, etc." A secondary definition is: "any social prohibition or restriction that results from convention or tradition."

These definitions could serve as operating principles for most of our newspapers. Many things, people and acts are unmentionable in the "media" only in the restricted or specified ways. The New York Times reminds us daily that it delivers, as Adolph Ochs decreed in 1896, only the news that is "fit to print." Eugene Meyer intented that The Post would do the same when he purchased it in 1933: "{it} shall observe the decencies that are obligatory upon a private gentleman. What it prints shall be fit reading for the young as well as the old."

There is a Victorian ring to these admonitions. But many of them are still observed. They are grounded in notions of good taste and sound commercial practice. What is "fit reading" for members of the International Society for Group Sex, Mate Swapping and Bestiality is not necessarily fit for a mass circulation "family newspaper."

Thus, we are very skittish about using the powerful Anglo-Saxonisms denoting sexual acts and organs or bodily functions and their products. Thus, we will not disgust or titillate you with long, explicit and illustrated accounts of copulation and related activities, sadistic rituals or the more bizarre forms of sadisms. They are taboo.

In that tradition The Post and other newspapers would not reproduce the raunchy Mapplethorpe photographs that caused such a tempest in political and artsy circles. We would not publish the 2 Live Crew lyrics that led to the hotly debated free speech trial in Florida. Nor have we published verbatim excerpts from "American Psycho," which might have explained why it was banned at the last moment by its putative publisher, Simon and Schuster.

All off those things could have been published under the rules of style and usage in force at this newspaper: "Words and expressions generally regarded as obscene, profane or blasphemous should be used only with great care. In general, omit them except when they are relevant to the story, as in an article about court rulings on obscenity." But that rationale was insufficient to to overcome the more enduring taboos in our newsrooms and, presumably, in the marketplace as well.

Sociologists and pollsters tell us that journalists are an irreligious class of people; the great majority have weak or nonexistent affiliations with churches, synagogues or mosques. Nonetheless, religious taboos are enforced religiously, so to speak, at The Post and in most publications. Proper nouns referring to "the divinity and the Devil" are to be capitalized: "God, Allah, Jehovah, Satan, Lucifer." Personal pronouns "referring to the deity and Jesus" are capitalized: "He, Thou, Him . . . " These rules and taboos clearly are not products of intense spirituality or religiousity within "media" organizations but are rather concessions to "community standards" and to commercial considerations; 95 percent of the American people profess a belief in God; nearly 150 million have religious affiliations.

Other taboos appear or vanish as secular values and political agendas change. Rogers and Hammerstein could celebrate Ms. Forbush, who was "broad where a broad should be broad" and could celebrate, too, the indisputable fact that there is "nothing like a dame." Today "broads" and "dames" do not exist in the mainstream press. We are mandated to "eliminate invidious sex-based terms and phrases." The "man in the street" has vanished, replaced by a neutered "person in the street." "Old folks" are with us no longer. Even such words as "elderly" and "middle aged" are generally proscribed. "Colored" and "Negro" were long ago declared taboo and replaced by "black," which is now endangered by the new racial term, "African American." It is taboo to describe the antiabortion movement as a "right-to-life" movement as a pro-abortion movement; the required phase is "pro-abortion-rights." There are taboos against naming rape victims, juvenile criminals and covert agents of the CIA.

Finally, the courtesy titles "Mr." "Mrs." and "Miss" are taboo in the news columns. That is a taboo the gentlemen of Eugene Meyer's class would have found quite shocking and strange.