American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
- n. A word or pronunciation that distinguishes people of one group or class from those of another.
- n. A word or phrase identified with a particular group or cause; a catchword.
- n. A commonplace saying or idea.
- n. A custom or practice that betrays one as an outsider.
Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia
- n. A Hebrew word, meaning ‘ear of corn’ or ‘stream,’ used by Jephthah, one of the judges of Israel, as a test-word by which to distinguish the fleeing Ephraimites (who could not pronounce the sh in shibboleth) from his own men, the Gileadites (Judges xii. 4–6); hence, a test-word, or the watchword or pet phrase of a party, sect, or school. Similarly, during the massacre of the Sicilian Vespers, the French be trayed their nationality by inability to pronounce correctly the Italian word ciceri.
- n. A word, especially seen as a test, to distinguish someone as belonging to a particular nation, class, profession etc.
- n. A common or longstanding belief, custom, or catchphrase associated with a particular group, especially one with little current meaning or truth.
GNU Webster's 1913
- n. A word which was made the criterion by which to distinguish the Ephraimites from the Gileadites. The Ephraimites, not being able to pronounce
sh, called the word sibboleth. See Judges xii.
- n. Also used in an extended sense.
- n. Hence, the criterion, test, or watchword of a party; a party cry or pet phrase.
- n. a favorite saying of a sect or political group
- n. a manner of speaking that is distinctive of a particular group of people
- From Hebrew שבולת (šibbōlet, "ear of wheat"), with reference to Judges 12:5-6: ‘Gilead then cut Ephraim off from the fords of the Jordan, and whenever Ephraimite fugitives said, “Let me cross,” the men of Gilead would ask, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he said, “No,” they then said, “Very well, say Shibboleth.” If anyone said “Sibboleth”, but could not pronounce it, they would then seize him and kill him by the fords of the Jordan.’ (New Jerusalem Bible) (Wiktionary)
- Ultimately from Hebrew šibbōlet, torrent of water, from the use of this word to distinguish one tribe from another that pronounced it sibbōlet (Judges 12:4-6). (American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
“In English the Hebrew word shibboleth now sometimes refers to clichés or tired slogans.”
“I've read the word shibboleth a hundred times, written it a few, and probably even said it myself, but I had never understood it until then.”
“The word shibboleth in ancient Hebrew dialects meant 'ear of grain' (or, some say, 'stream').”
“People who want to make this about Joe Wilson have their official Faux News blinders on (you can tell when they repeat catch phrases like “criminilization of politics” – that’s what you call a shibboleth).”
““A shibboleth is a test—a way to separate da wheat from da chaff that's as old as the Bible, but as new as the latest trend in men's fashions,” Gus says.”
“The notion that there is a global conspiracy by professional scientists to falsify results in order to get more research money is, to borrow Quiggen's words about birtherism, "a shibboleth, that is, an affirmation that marks the speaker as a member of their community or tribe.”
“And, so, this shibboleth, which is largely used by Republicans, to say, oh, the Democrats want terrorists in your -- in your neighborhood, in your community, that is a lot of baloney.”
“But 21st century realities are shattering the elite's most treasured shibboleth, which is that America will always have the power to remake the world, to establish one new world order after another.”
“A shibboleth is a mantra to which people get attached because it is easier than hard thinking.”
“A shibboleth is a kind of linguistic password: A way of speaking (a pronunciation, or the use of a particular expression) that identifies one as a member, or a non-member, of a particular group.”
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