Brow Beat

If Taboo Says You Can’t Say “Sing,” Can You Say “Song”?

The card that launched a thousand debates.

Derreck Johnson

Last week, my wife and I settled down for a Friday night game of Taboo with my brother and his girlfriend. We decided on an arbitrary end score of 65. Guys versus girls. After each round of enthusiastic shouting and (totally illegal) pantomiming, we would grab a refill of Black Box Malbec. The guys held a commanding lead but the girls ramped a strong comeback. Trash talk was plentiful.

But it was all smiles and laughter until we got to the card that would change the game. The guess word was lullaby. The Taboo words were baby, sleep, cradle, sing, and rock. My wife was giving clues. And then, in the midst of her loud stream of consciousness, she blurted out the word song.

“BZZZZZZT! “ I pressed the buzzer as hard as I could mere inches from her ear. I pressed it so hard it started to warble.

“What did I say?” she scoffed.

“You said ‘song,’ the word ‘sing’ is right there” I replied.

Needless to say, my wife vehemently defended why she thought that it was fine to use the word. My brother’s girlfriend backed her up.

It turns out there may be more at stake here than we even knew. There’s an entire Reddit thread that details a very similar conundrum: the clue “sing” given in response to the Taboo word “song.” So is there a bigger discussion to be had here? Does the key to a central mystery of this classic party game—perhaps even to the English language—lie in my marital dispute?

My argument mainly relied on the written rules of Taboo, which state: “No form or part of ANY word printed on the card may be given as a clue. Examples: If the Guess word is PAYMENT, ‘pay’ cannot be given as a clue. If DRINK is a Taboo word, ‘drunk’ cannot be given as a clue. If SPACESHIP is the Guess word, you can’t use ‘space’ or ‘ship” as a clue. …You cannot say the Guess word ‘sounds like’ or ‘rhymes with’ another word.

This seems pretty clear to me. But on Reddit, many say that my wife has a very strong case. What constitutes “form” as read in the rules? defines the word song as “the art or act of singing” or “something that is sung.” And yet, as my colleague Chris Kirk points out, the word song doesn’t appear in the Related Form section of the definition of sing on the same site.

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My wife’s stern and eloquent rebuttal:

“The rules of Taboo state that no form or any part of the word may be given as a clue. I’m correct because song and sing are two completely different words. Song is a noun and not a form nor tense of the verb sing. Bottom line: You can’t song a sing, song a sang or song a sung. But you can sing a song, and could say ‘sang a song’ or ‘sung a song.’ ”

My next step is a heartfelt letter to Hasbro asking them to refine their rules. The future of Taboo—and the fate of my marriage—may be at stake.