A shibboleth is like a motto or catchphrase that members of a group tend to say, like the conservative shibboleth that the only good government is a small government.

Shibboleth is a Hebrew word that means "ear of corn" or "flood." In a Biblical story, the word was used as a password — a means to figure out who was part of your group and who wasn't. It still has that sense of identifying someone as a member of a group. Sometimes it also means "platitude" or "truism," a phrase that is so common everyone thinks it's true, like "crime doesn't pay," or "better late than never."

Definitions of shibboleth
  1. noun
    a favorite saying of a sect or political group
    synonyms: catchword, motto, slogan
    see moresee less
    catch phrase, catchphrase
    a phrase that has become a catchword
    a commonly repeated word or phrase
    battle cry, cry, rallying cry, war cry, watchword
    a slogan used to rally support for a cause
    type of:
    expression, locution, saying
    a word or phrase that particular people use in particular situations
  2. noun
    a manner of speaking that is distinctive of a particular group of people
    see moresee less
    type of:
    delivery, manner of speaking, speech
    your characteristic style or manner of expressing yourself orally
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Commonly confused words

You Say To-MAH-to: Everyday Shibboleths

Stories of shibboleths date back to the Old Testament, but recently I've been noticing ways we encounter them in everyday life.

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