List of shibboleths

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Below are listed various examples of words and phrases that have been identified as shibboleths, a word or custom whose variations in pronunciation or style can be used to differentiate members of ingroups from those of outgroups.

Shibboleths used in war and persecution[edit]


  • Schild en vriend: On 18 May 1302, the people of Bruges killed the French occupiers of the city during a nocturnal surprise attack. According to a famous legend, they stormed into the houses where they knew the tenants were forced to board and lodge French troops serving as city guards, roused every male person from his bed and forced him to repeat the challenge schild en vriend (shield and friend). The Flemings pronounced schild with a separate "s" /s/ and "ch" /x/". Flemings would pronounce vriend with a voiced v whereas French would render those as a voiceless f.
Every Frenchman who failed the test was stabbed on the spot, still in his nightgown. Because the signal for the uprising was the matins bells of the city's churches and monasteries, this became known as the Bruges Matins or Brugse Metten. Like the name of the massacre, the story may have been influenced by the Sicilian uprising mentioned below.
The problem with this legend is that in Medieval manuscripts of that time, a shield is referred to as "skilde" as in Norse and Norse-influenced English words. Therefore, it is sometimes said that the words must have been "'s gilden vriend" meaning "friend of the guilds." The combination of the 's and the g in "'s gilden" would be pronounced /sx/.[1]


  • Ciciri (chickpeas): This was used by native Sicilians to ferret out Angevin French soldiers in the late 13th century during the Sicilian Vespers, the uprising which freed the island from Angevin rule. Both the Italian soft c /tʃ/, and the Italian r, were (and are still) difficult for the French to pronounce as that sequence of sounds seldom appears in French; also, in French, words are primarily stressed on the final syllable.[2]


Bûter, brea, en griene tsiis; wa't dat net sizze kin, is gjin oprjochte Fries
  • Bûter, brea, en griene tsiis; wa't dat net sizze kin, is gjin oprjochte Fries (example ) (meaning "Butter, rye bread and green cheese, whoever cannot say that is not a genuine Frisian") was used by the Frisian Pier Gerlofs Donia during a Frisian rebellion (1515–1523). Ships whose crew could not pronounce this properly were usually plundered and soldiers who could not were beheaded by Donia himself.[3]

Castilian Spanish–Latin-American Spanish[edit]


  • The Peasants' Revolt of 1381 (also Tyler's Rebellion, or the Great Rising) was used by the merchants of London in an attempt to get a competitive edge in the trade with the Low Countries by reducing the number of competitors. A massacre among the Flemings in London – not just the Flemish merchants – ensued. "And many fflemmynges loste hir heedes at that tyme and namely they that koude nat say Breede and Chese, but Case and Brode."[5]


  • Yksi: Finnish for "one", used by the White Guard to separate Russians from Finns in the Finnish Civil War during the invasion of Tampere. Many of the Russians caught had changed to civilian clothing, so suspected people were rounded up, even from hospitals, and asked to say yksi [ˈyks̠i](or made count to ten in Finnsh). If the prisoner pronounced it [ˈjuksi], mistaking the front vowel 'y' for an iotated 'u' (ю), he was considered a Russian foreign fighter and was shot on the spot. Any Slav or Balt, Communist or not, was killed, including some members of the White Guard.[6]
  • Höyryjyrä: Finnish for "steamroller", used by the Finnish Army in the Second World War. This word is almost impossible to pronounce for anyone not skilled in Finnish, with the frontal 'ö' and 'y' and rolled 'r' [ˈhøy̯ryˌjyræ]. For Russian speakers, the leading 'h' is also difficult.[7][circular reference]

Spanish–French and Haitian Creole[edit]

  • Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo conducted a massacre of undocumented Haitian settlers along the Dominican–Haitian border. The action is known as the Parsley Massacre. Suspects not fluent in Spanish either did not know or could not properly pronounce the Spanish word perejil ("parsley"). The pronunciation of the word by Haitian citizens tended to be with a trilled r, unlike the native Spanish tapped r, and without the 'l' at the end of the word.[8]


  • During the Sumgait Pogrom, Azeri rioters targeted ethnic Armenians pulled from their homes and vehicles by asking them the Azeri word for Hazelnut, fundukh, which Armenians typically pronounce with a [p] instead of an [f].[9]


  • Soczewica, koło, miele, młyn (Old Polish pronunciation: [ˈs̪ɔt͡ʃɛvit͡sʲa ˈkɔɫɔ ˈmʲɛlʲɛ ˈmɫɪn̪]), meaning "lentil, wheel, grinds [verb], mill": In 1312, the Polish Prince Ladislaus the Elbow-high quelled the Rebellion of wójt Albert in Kraków, populated mostly by Silesian, German and Czech citizens. Anyone over the age of 7 who could not pronounce these Polish words was put to death, ejected from the city or had their property confiscated. 'Ł' (then pronounced as a velarized alveolar lateral approximant, aka dark l) and dental [s̪] are both unlikely to be pronounced properly by Germans since they cannot make out the difference from their own sounds [l] and [s]. (The former was approximated by Germans as l, and has evolved now into a sound similar to English w).[10]


  • Following the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake occurred in an area with a high Korean population, there were rumors that the local Korean population poisoned the wells. This resulted in the killings of ethnic Koreans. The shibboleth "babibubebo" (ばびぶべぼ) was used to distinguish ethnic Koreans from Japanese, as it was thought that Koreans could not pronounce the shibboleth correctly and would pronounce it as "papipupepo". However, many ethnic Chinese were also killed as they were also unable to correctly pronounce the shibboleth.[citation needed]


  • Palianytsia: a type of Ukrainian bread. During the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the word palianytsia (Ukrainian: паляниця, [pɐlʲɐˈnɪt͡sʲɐ]) became one of those proposed to use to identify Russian subversive reconnaissance groups, as it is unlikely to be pronounced properly by Russians due to different phonetics of the Russian language.[11] On Russian state television, Russia-1 television host Olga Skabeyeva pronounced this word as "polyanitsa" and said that it means strawberry, confusing it with another Ukrainian word, polunytsia (Ukrainian: полуниця, [pɔlʊˈnɪt͡sʲɐ]).[12]

Culture, religion and language-specific shibboleths[edit]

Other non-English shibboleths[edit]


  • The sentence De zon in de zee zien zakken (Eye dialect: De son in de see sien sakke) 'to see the sun go under the sea', pronounced [də ˈsɔn ɪn də ˈsei sin ˈsɑkə] (or, in broader accents, [də ˈɕɔn ɪn də ˈɕei ɕin ˈɕɑkə]) is used to identify speakers of the Amsterdam dialect, who lack the /z/ phoneme. The standard Dutch pronunciation of that sentence is [də ˈzɔn ɪn də ˈzeː zin ˈzɑkə(n)]. Contrary to the stereotype, any prevocalic ⟨z⟩ can be voiced in Amsterdam, but then so can any prevocalic ⟨s⟩ through the process of hypercorrection (so that suiker 'sugar', pronounced [ˈsœykər] in Standard Dutch may be pronounced [ˈzɐykər] (spelled zuiker in eye dialect) in Amsterdam).[20]

English shibboleths for native speakers or local natives[edit]

  • Fish and chips: The accents of Australians and New Zealanders seem very similar, and the term fish and chips is sometimes evoked to illustrate a major difference between the two. In New Zealand pronunciation short i is a central vowel, [ɘ]. This vowel sound is sometimes caricatured as "fush and chups" by Australians. The Australian pronunciation has the front vowel [ɪ] (which is more common in most varieties of English) which, due to an overall vowel shift in New Zealand, sounds like "feesh and cheeps" to the ears of a New Zealander,[21][22] sounding like an instance of the "Fill–feel merger".
  • Pronunciation of letters of the alphabet:
  • In Highland Dress, for anyone who has served in a Scottish Regiment or played in a pipe band, or whenever said by a Scot, if ‘plaidshould be used to refer to tartan cloth, it could be pronounced: /ˈplæd/ (to rhyme with 'had'). NB: This usage, as a synonym for 'tartan', is generally only ever found in North America.[29] More often, however, when referring to the cape-like garment, in its various forms, worn over the left shoulder as part of the traditional or formal Scottish dress, the pronunciation is: /ˈpld/ (to rhyme with 'made'); though the OED accepts both pronunciations in this usage. To further stress the difference in pronunciation of the garment versus the cloth, the garment has an alternative spelling 'plaide', though rarely used. Thus: belted-plaid, drummer's plaid, evening-plaid, fly-plaid, full-plaid, piper's plaid, et al., are pronounced /ˈpld/ by those who have worn, or are familiar, with the same. Etymology: plaide (Scots) via Scottish Gaelic meaning 'blanket' or 'cloak' (albeit usually made of tartan; most often the same tartan as the wearer's kilt or trews).[30]

Place-name pronunciations[edit]

In Australia[edit]

In Canada[edit]

In Ireland[edit]

In Malaysia[edit]

In the United Kingdom[edit]

In the United States[edit]

Place-name terms[edit]

  • In Southern California, locals generally use the article "the" preceding the number of a freeway. Northern California locals generally do not use "the" before a numerical freeway name. For example, Southern Californians usually refer to Highway 101 as "The 101," whereas Northern Californians will refer to it as simply "101."[61][62] By comparison, people in the rest of the United States more often precede a freeway's route number with its highway classification, as in "U.S. 101" for a Federal highway or "Interstate 5" or "I-5" for an interstate highway.[63]
  • Long-time and/or Democratic residents of Washington, D.C., often refer to Reagan National Airport by its older nickname, "National," out of habit or political pique, while Republicans and visitors are more likely to call it “Reagan National”.[64]
  • Additionally, some residents of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area will refer to it as "The DMV" (the District, Maryland, and Virginia, specifically referencing the Fairfax, Alexandria, and Arlington Counties of Virginia; the city itself; and the Montgomery and Prince George's Counties of Maryland). This frequently leads to outsiders confusing it with the local Department of Motor Vehicles, or "Delmarva", the portmanteau of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia (referring to the combined areas of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Eastern Shore of Virginia, and Delaware), both of which can also be abbreviated to "DMV".
  • In the San Francisco Bay Area, San Francisco is generally referred to by its full name or as “the City”. Most tourists and new residents will tend to shorten “San Francisco”; for example, “SF” or “Frisco”, which are used much less commonly by long-term residents.

See also[edit]


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