Definition of shibboleth in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈSHibələTH/


A custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important: the party began to break with the shibboleths of the left
More example sentences
  • It's not bad to be reminded that there's a whole horde of men of his generation out there in the sticks for whom the old shibboleths are pretty important.
  • Yet, it points to a tendency - I'll put it as weakly as that - toward re-marketing tired conservative shibboleths as funky new contrarian understandings.
  • But discarding a few outmoded shibboleths does not create a society that is at ease with itself and free of class anxieties, frictions and divisions.


Mid 17th century: from Hebrew šibbōleṯ 'ear of corn', used as a test of nationality by its difficult pronunciation (Judg. 12:6).

  • The people of Gilead, east of the river Jordan, and members of the Hebrew tribe of Ephraim did not speak the same dialect, and neither were they the best of friends. The Book of Judges recounts a battle between them, in which Jephthah told his men, the Gileadites, to identify defeated Ephraimites by asking them to say ‘shibboleth’, a Hebrew word meaning ‘ear of corn’ or ‘stream in flood’. Ephraimites had difficulty in pronouncing sh, and if a soldier said ‘sibboleth’ then he was killed as an enemy. Since the mid 17th century English speakers have used shibboleth for ‘a word used to detect foreigners or strangers’, and in the early 19th century extended this to ‘a custom, principle, or belief that distinguishes a particular class or group’. It now especially refers to a long-standing belief regarded as outmoded or no longer important.

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Syllabification: shib·bo·leth

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