Contraband (n)

Here is a context clues worksheet on the noun contraband. You probably know that this solid word of Latin origin means, both as a noun and an adjective (it doesn’t morph as an adjective, but stays in its noun form, contraband), “illegal or prohibited traffic in goods : SMUGGLING” and “goods or merchandise whose importation, exportation, or possession is forbidden; also : smuggled goods.”

What you may not know, and what may surprise you, is that even in the latest edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (the lexicon of choice at Mark’s Text Terminal), contraband continues to carry the meaning “a slave who during the American Civil War escaped to or was brought within the Union lines.” In other words, this definition provides a lucid (and, arguably, lurid) glance into the mentality that reduced human beings with darker skin, but with human consciousness and agency nonetheless, to commodities. As such, this otherwise modest definition opens the door for a critical look at slavery and white supremacy in the United States.

What is an essential question here? Well, I might start with “How and why did people become ‘goods’ in the American mind?” But there are all kinds of those questions in this definition.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

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