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shibboleth

[shib-uh-lith, ‐leth] /ˈʃɪb ə lɪθ, ‐ˌlɛθ/
noun
1.
a peculiarity of pronunciation, behavior, mode of dress, etc., that distinguishes a particular class or set of persons.
2.
a slogan; catchword.
3.
a common saying or belief with little current meaning or truth.
Origin
< Hebrew shibbōleth literally, freshet, a word used by the Gileadites as a test to detect the fleeing Ephraimites, who could not pronounce the sound sh (Judges 12:4-6)
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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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British Dictionary definitions for shibboleth

shibboleth

/ˈʃɪbəˌlɛθ/
noun
1.
a belief, principle, or practice which is commonly adhered to but which is thought by some people to be inappropriate or out of date
2.
a custom, phrase, or use of language that acts as a test of belonging to, or as a stumbling block to becoming a member of, a particular social class, profession, etc
Word Origin
C14: from Hebrew, literally: ear of grain; the word is used in the Old Testament by the Gileadites as a test word for the Ephraimites, who could not pronounce the sound sh
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for shibboleth
n.

late 14c., the Hebrew word shibboleth, meaning "flood, stream," also "ear of corn;" in Judges xii:4-6. It was the password used by the Gileadites to distinguish their own men from fleeing Ephraimites, because Ephraimites could not pronounce the -sh- sound. Hence the figurative sense of "watchword" (first recorded 1630s), which evolved by 1862 to "outmoded slogan still adhered to." A similar test-word was cicera "chick pease," used by the Italians to identify the French (who could not pronounce it correctly) during the massacre called the Sicilian Vespers (1282).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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shibboleth in Culture
shibboleth [(shib-uh-luhth, shib-uh-leth)]

In the Old Testament, shibboleth was a password used by the Israelites. It was chosen because their enemies could not pronounce it.

Note: By extension, a shibboleth is an often-repeated slogan. It also means an arbitrary test to prove membership in a group.
The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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shibboleth in the Bible

river, or an ear of corn. The tribes living on the east of Jordan, separated from their brethren on the west by the deep ravines and the rapid river, gradually came to adopt peculiar customs, and from mixing largely with the Moabites, Ishmaelites, and Ammonites to pronounce certain letters in such a manner as to distinguish them from the other tribes. Thus when the Ephraimites from the west invaded Gilead, and were defeated by the Gileadites under the leadership of Jephthah, and tried to escape by the "passages of the Jordan," the Gileadites seized the fords and would allow none to pass who could not pronounce "shibboleth" with a strong aspirate. This the fugitives were unable to do. They said "sibboleth," as the word was pronounced by the tribes on the west, and thus they were detected (Judg. 12:1-6). Forty-two thousand were thus detected, and "Without reprieve, adjudged to death, For want of well-pronouncing shibboleth."

Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary
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Encyclopedia Article for shibboleth

Mason City

city, seat (1855) of Cerro Gordo county, northern Iowa, U.S., along the Winnebago River, about 120 miles (195 km) north of Des Moines. The area was inhabited by Winnebago and Sioux peoples when Freemasons arrived to settle the site in 1853; its earlier names were Shibboleth, Masonic Grove, and Masonville before the present name was adopted. The city is underlain by deposits of clay and limestone, and large quantities of sand and gravel are also available, hence it long has supported a substantial cement industry.

Learn more about Mason City with a free trial on Britannica.com
Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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