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The Story of the Shibboleth A shibboleth is a kind of linguistic password A way of speaking a pronunciation or the use of a particular expression that identifies one as a member of an in group The purpose of a shibboleth is exclusionary as much as inclusionary A person whose way of speaking violates a shibboleth is identified as an outsider and thereby excluded by the group This phenomenon is part of the Judge a book by its cover tendency apparently embedded in human cognition and the use of language to distinguish social groups The story behind the word is recorded in the biblical Book of Judges The word shibboleth in ancient Hebrew dialects meant ear of grain or some say stream Some groups pronounced it with a sh sound but speakers of related dialects pronounced it with an s In the story two Semitic tribes the Ephraimites and the Gileadites have a great battle The Gileadites defeat the Ephraimites and set up a blockade to catch the fleeing Ephraimites The sentries asked each person to say the word shibboleth The Ephraimites who had no sh sound in their language pronounced the word with an s and were thereby unmasked as the enemy and slaughtered Here is the relevant excerpt from the Book of Judges The full account is in Chapter 12 verses 1-15 12 4 Then Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead and fought with Ephraim and the men of Gilead smote Ephraim because they said Ye Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites and among the Manassites 5 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
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