Good evening, my dear readers!
Don’t worry, no intention to investigate on you today! This expression is one of the first things that a language student learns in his early English lessons. And it magically appeared in my mind today once reading A.Word.A.Day week’s theme. For the records, it’s ‘words about words’. This peculiar word was completely unknown to me, but when I read the meaning, I immediately thought about Italian and my home country …
1. The use of a word or pronunciation that distinguishes a group of people.
2. A slogan, belief, or custom that’s now considered outmoded.
According to the Book of Judges in the Bible, the Gileadites used the Hebrew word shibboleth (ear of corn; stream) to identify the fleeing Ephraimites who couldn’t pronounce the sh sound. 42,000 Ephraimites were slaughtered. Earliest documented use: 1382.
Some massacres in which the pronunciation of a word played a key part:
Battle of the Golden Spurs
The meaning of the term has now widened. It could be applied to anything, not just the pronunciation of a word, that distinguishes people. It could be a way of eating, dressing, etc.
“Kurdish Iraq’s two dominant parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, fought a civil war in the 1990s. Ordinary words turned into shibboleths. Using the word afrat for ‘woman’ revealed a link with the KDP; the PUK used the word zhin. Today, the two parties share power. This has resulted in an attempt at linguistic fusion that makes Ferhadi shudder: whenever political leaders refer to women, they say ‘afrat and zhin’ to show that they have overcome old divisions.”
Sophie Hardach; ‘Professor, You’re Dividing My Nation’; The Chronicle of Higher Education (Washington, DC); Jun 23, 2013.”Osborne’s allies say his urge to win is greater than his eagerness to parrot Thatcherite shibboleths.”
Rafael Behr; The Politics Column; New Statesman (London, UK); Jun 28, 2013.
1. idea/usanza vieta, principio antiquato
outmoded shibboleths vecchie credenze, dottrine antiquate
2. al pl vecchiume, vietume
3.1 shibboleth, parola usata per individuare la provenienza di una persona dal modo in cui la pronunzia; parola di difficile pronunzia per uno straniero
3.2 particolarità di pronuncia o accento che denota l’origina di una persona; modo di parlare, di vestire, ecc che distingue una certa categoria di persone
4. slogan, parola a effetto, parola d’ordine.
Italy has a much varied territory from many points of view. It’s a kaleidoscope of landscapes and monuments, a mosaic of cultures and customs, a melting pot of different populations. It’s not just a recent feature, Italy has always been a conquest land, Turkish, Spanish, French, Austrian, (Americans today?), we had all sorts of rulers in the course of our history, mostly due to our privileged position in the Mediterranean Sea and our treasures. Our history is clearly mirrored by the terrific variety of local dialects, some of them appearing like a language of their own, all deeply bound to their territory and its history, all having strong and clearly identifiable characteristics. For example, the dialect of my hometown, Naples, is worldwide known for the pronunciation of the letter S associated to the letter P (it sound ‘shp’). Who hasn’t ever heard about our famous sh-paghetti? It’s our shibboleth, like the aspirated ‘c’ (like the English ‘h’) for Tuscans or the x (s) for Venetians. Another curious shibboleth : if you are in Rome, you may happen to hear someone who’s going to take the ‘auto‘. Don’t be fooled, he’s not going to drive his car like in any other part of Italy, he’s going to take the bus!
Well, folks, closing time, but let me ask you just one question: do you have your own shibboleth? Let me know, I’m curious!
See you soon, folks …
Your passionate (Italian) Translator
About the illustration: It’s a photo taken at Bab Boujloud in Fès, old town (medina). Its author is no Profi, as he would say of himself in his language (German). He’s not German, though, he comes originally from Istanbul. He travels a lot, as his gallery on Deviantart clearly shows. And he’s definitely a brilliant photographer, at least in my opinion. I chose his pic just because I really liked it, it was one of the newest sc. deviations and one of the first displayed in Deviantart homepage today. I told myself, well, I’m going to talk about countries and cultures, so why don’t I use this gorgeous pic portraying such a beautiful, charming and exotic country? So here it is, in all its stunning beauty. And a wish: may I take a trip to this beautiful land once in my lifetime …