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date: 05 August 2020

Shibboleth [From Hebrew shibbōleth, meaning uncertain, perhaps either ‘stream in flood’ or ‘ear of corn’. The English use originates in the Bible, in the Book of Judges 12: 5–6, where the Gileadites defeat the Ephraimites at the River Jordan: ‘And the Gileadites tooke the passages of Iordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so that when those Ephraimites which were escaped saide, Let me go ouer, that the men of Gilead said vnto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay: Then said they vnto him, Say now, Shibboleth: and he said, Sibboleth: for hee could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they tooke him, and slewe him at the passages of Iordan.’ [Authorized Version, 1611]]. 

Source:
The Oxford Companion to the English Language
Author(s):
Tom McArthurTom McArthur, Jacqueline Lam-McArthurJacqueline Lam-McArthur, Lise FontaineLise Fontaine

1. A peculiarity of pronunciation that indicates someone’s regional and/or social origins, such as toity-toid thirty-third, serving to identify someone from Brooklyn.... ...

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