noun shib·bo·leth \ ˈshi-bə-ləth also -ˌleth \

Definition of shibboleth

1 a : a word or saying used by adherents of a party, sect, or belief and usually regarded by others as empty of real meaning
  • the old shibboleths come rolling off their lips
  • —Joseph Epstein
b : a widely held belief
  • today this book publishing shibboleth is a myth
  • —L. A. Wood
c : truism, platitude
  • some truth in the shibboleth that crime does not pay
  • —Lee Rogow
2 a : a use of language regarded as distinctive of a particular group
  • accent was … a shibboleth of social class
  • —Vivian Ducat
b : a custom or usage regarded as distinguishing one group from others
  • for most of the well-to-do in the town, dinner was a shibboleth, its hour dividing mankind
  • —Osbert Sitwell

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Examples of shibboleth in a Sentence

  1. She repeated the old shibboleth that time heals all wounds.

  2. we knew that their claim of giving “the best deal in town” was just a shibboleth

Recent Examples of shibboleth from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'shibboleth.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Did You Know?

The Bible's Book of Judges (12:4-6) tells the story of the Ephraimites, who, after they were routed by the Gileadite army, tried to retreat by sneaking across a ford of the Jordan River that was held by their enemy. The Gileadites, wary of the ploy, asked every soldier who tried to cross if he was an Ephraimite. When the soldier said "no," he was asked to say "shibboleth" (which means "stream" in Hebrew). Gileadites pronounced the word shibboleth, but Ephramites said "sibboleth." Anyone who left out the initial "sh" was killed on the spot. When English speakers first borrowed "shibboleth," they used it to mean "test phrase," but it has acquired additional meanings since that time.

Origin and Etymology of shibboleth

Hebrew shibbōleth stream; from the use of this word in Judges 12:6 as a test to distinguish Gileadites from Ephraimites

SHIBBOLETH Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of shibboleth for English Language Learners

  • : an old idea, opinion, or saying that is commonly believed and repeated but that may be seen as old-fashioned or untrue

  • : a word or way of speaking or behaving which shows that a person belongs to a particular group

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