This is a list of the shibboleths that I have so far collected.
  1. Shibboleth
    The word that gives rise to the idea of a shibboleth, the only Hebrew word in English that stands for its function rather than its actual meaning. The meaning is in fact uncertain, described either as
    "a stream in flood" or "an ear of corn."
    And the Gileadites seized the passages of the Jordan before the Ephraimites; and it was so, that when those Ephraimites who had escaped said, ``Let me go over,'' that the men of Gilead said unto him, ``Art thou an Ephraimite?'' If he said, ``Nay,'' then said they unto him, ``Say now 'Shibboleth.''' And he said ``Sibboleth,'' for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him and slew him at the passages of the Jordan; and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand. (Judges 12:5--6)
  2. h
    The eighth letter of the alphabet is reported to be used in Northern Ireland to distinguish Catholics and Protestants. [
    The Economist: "How do you pronounce hate?" Jun 13th 2002]
  3. car
  4. castle
    UK Northern vs Southern English
  5. half
    US vs British English
  6. tomato
    US vs British English
  7. water
    US vs British English
  8. been
    The best shibboleth I ever hit upon lay in the pronunciation of the word "been" which the English invariably make to rhyme with "green," and we Northerners, at least (in accordance, I think, with the custom of Shakespeare's time), universally pronounce "bin."
    [OUR OLD HOME: A Series of English Sketches By Nathaniel Hawthorne Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1883 ]
  9. lalapaloosa
    Allied military intelligence used the word "lalapaloosa" in World War II to trap Japanese who posed as Chinese. With most native Chinese, the "r" sound comes out as "l", whereas most native Japanese are likely to hear the "1" sound as "r".
    Jones. The Arabic Language: Its Place in the Middle East's Culture and Politics. American Diplomacy, Volume VII, Number 3, 2002
  10. About Pronounced differently by Scots and Canadians.
  11. rasgullah The name of an Indian sweet, distinguishes among speakers of different Indian languages.
  12. clothes Very hard for non-native English speakers.
  13. thither
    German vs native English
  14. ask
    Distinguishing northern and southern British speech, this is also a sensitive cultural discriminator in the US, where the pronunciation "ax" is used in the South and by many African-Americans.
    while also being traced back to Chaucerian English
  15. Bother, father caught hot coffee in the car park.
    Used by linguists to distinguish many different accents of spoken English.
    alt.usage.english audio archives
  16. Scheveningen
    (Dutch town) Used by Dutch during World War II to detect German infiltrators. See
    bible commentary and The Free Dictionary
  17. perejil
    Spanish word for parsley in Dominica, used to distinguish Hatians from Dominicans.
    Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians and the Struggle for Hispaniola (New York: Hill & Wang, 1999. Michele Wucker;
    The History of the Dominican Republic, According to Ralph
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Andrew Senior
Last modified: Sat Jul 24 12:07:39 EDT 2004