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From Hebrew שִׁבֹּלֶת / שיבולת(šibbōlet, stream, torrent), previously thought to come from Hebrew שִׁבֹּלֶת / שיבולת(šibbōlet, ear of wheat) .[1]


  • IPA(key): /ˈʃɪbəlɛθ/
  • (file)


shibboleth (plural shibboleths)

  1. A particular pronunciation or custom that is regarded as distinguishing members of a group from non-members, especially when used as a test.
    • 1933, “H”, in Oxford English Dictionary:
      In recent times, the correct treatment of initial h in speech has come to be regarded as a kind of shibboleth of social position.
    • 1922, Pennsylvania-German Society, The Pennsylvania-German Society, page 110:
      He also declares that "th" is the veritable English shibboleth. He advises those Germans who cannot pronounce the sound correctly to pronounce it like "d," the symbol which he regularly uses for "th" in his lessons.
  2. A common or longstanding belief, custom, or catchphrase associated with a particular group, especially one with little current meaning or truth.
    Coordinate terms: platitude, slogan, truism, catchword, catchphrase
    It's about time we abandoned the bourgeois shibboleth that earning money makes you a better person.
    • 1924, Modern Languages, page 112:
      The teacher says he must stick largely to the old methods and cling to the old shibboleths or he will naturally get bad results in the examination. Only much practice along the lines the examination is going to follow will insure a [success].
    • 1964 May, R. & M., “What chance for an outstanding prototype?”, in Modern Railways, page 319:
      I pose the iconoclastic suggestion that even at this late stage in B.R. dieselisation, rigid standardisation might be a shibboleth.
    • 2019 January 11, Tina Jordan, quoting J. K. Rowling, “Some Dos and Don’ts From Famous Writers”, in New York Times[1]:
      The truth is that I found success by stumbling off alone in a direction most people thought was a dead end, breaking all the 1990s shibboleths about children’s books in the process.
    • 2022, Gary Gerstle, chapter 2, in The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order [] , New York: Oxford University Press, →ISBN, Part I. The New Deal Order, 1930–1980:
      Yet LBJ was very much a product of the Cold War, believing its shibboleths about communist conquest being irreversible and requiring worldwide containment even when a country, such as Vietnam, that might be falling to the communists did not threaten US national interests.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Judges 12:5-6”, in New Jerusalem Bible, 1989:
    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.

Further reading[edit]