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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 word, especially seen as a test, to distinguish someone as belonging to a particular nation, class, profession etc.
  2. A common or longstanding belief, custom, or catchphrase associated with a particular group, especially one with little current meaning or truth.
    Synonyms: platitude, slogan, truism
    It's about time we abandoned the bourgeois shibboleth that earning money makes you a better person.
    • 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, “Some Dos and Don’ts From Famous Writers”, in New York Times[1]:
      Earlier this month J.K. Rowling posted some tips on her website. “I haven’t got 10 rules that guarantee success, though I promise I’d share them if I did,” she wrote. “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.”


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  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.