shib·​bo·​leth | \ ˈshi-bə-ləth How to pronounce shibboleth (audio) also -ˌleth \

Definition of shibboleth

1a : 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
2a : 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

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 shibbōleth (which means "stream" in Hebrew). Gileadites pronounced the word "shibboleth," but Ephramites said "sibboleth." Anyone who didn't pronounce 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.

Examples of shibboleth in a Sentence

She repeated the old shibboleth that time heals all wounds. we knew that their claim of giving “the best deal in town” was just a shibboleth
Recent Examples on the Web Diversity, after all, is generally regarded as a progressive shibboleth, not a Tory one. Yasmeen Serhan, The Atlantic, 13 July 2022 At CPAC Orlando, most of the speakers ritually invoked the shibboleth that Trump had actually won the 2020 election, despite all evidence. Andrew Marantz, The New Yorker, 27 June 2022 That sounds cliché, but then, GDC has never feared a little shibboleth. Lauren Warnecke,, 2 Apr. 2022 The Friday shibboleth remains today, but mainly when the day falls on the 13th of the month. Melissa Holbrook Pierson, WSJ, 2 Jan. 2022 The show is now a shibboleth of public discourse here, a byword among ultra-conservatives who praise it as a patriotic exposé and reformists who denounce it as slanderous propaganda. Omid Khazani And Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times, 18 Nov. 2021 The term has become a shibboleth, an immediate shorthand for Latter-day Saints to size up one another’s obedience and orthodoxy. The Salt Lake Tribune, 13 Oct. 2021 Soon enough, and without advertising at all, Slack was a perk, if not a shibboleth, for a certain kind of employee and a certain kind of company. Ellen Cushing, The Atlantic, 12 Oct. 2021 Despite the irony of furious takedowns and defensiveness inspired by a show about treating people with respect, Ted Lasso has become a shibboleth of TV discourse. Kathryn Vanarendonk, Vulture, 25 Aug. 2021 See More

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.

First Known Use of shibboleth

1638, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for shibboleth

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

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The first known use of shibboleth was in 1638

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Cite this Entry

“Shibboleth.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Oct. 2022.

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