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Shibboleth

The term Shibboleth is a Biblical word that literally means "torrent of water". After its usage in the Bible as a way of recognizing a member of a group (the pronunciation of the word was peculiar to this group), the term is used for words or phrases that form part of the specialized jargon of a group, and reveal their users as members of a group.

And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay;

Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.
Judges 12:5-6, KJV

Some shibboleths:

  • Scheveningen: The Dutch pronounce this word beginning with separate "s" [s] and "ch" [x] (not [ʧ]) sounds; a German would pronounce sch as [ʃ].
  • Wanda Jane: this is difficult for Japanese to say properly.

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