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Figaro rips the innards out of things people say and reveals the rhetorical tricks and pratfalls. For terms and definitions, click here.
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    Say Tomahto and I'll Kill You

    If someone pronounces Iraq “eye-rack,” he’s probably not a liberal. If he refers to the “Democrat Party,” he’s certainly not a liberal. If he uses the word “community” unironically? Bingo, a liberal. So what do you call this sort of tribal password? 

    shibboleth (SHIB-oh-lith), the password. From the Hebrew, meaning “grain stalk.” 

    The word comes from the Hebrew Bible—Judges 12:5-6—in a scene that describes the aftermath of a battle between two tribes. The tribe from Gilead beat the one from Ephraim, then blocked the retreating survivors from crossing the Jordan back to their homeland. Anyone claiming to be a Gileadite was given a test: pronounce the word “shibboleth.” If he said “sibboleth,” that proved he was an  Ephraimite, and he was killed on the spot.

    According to the scripture, 42,000 Ephraimites were slaughtered over a mispronunciation. Sounds like something Figaro’s terrifying fourth-grade grammar teacher would write.

    In fact, grammar itself counts as a kind of systematic shibboleth. There’s no such thing as “correct” grammar. There’s just upper-class grammar and everything else.

    And just by saying that, Figaro has proved himself a grass-combing Ephraimite. He’s preparing himself for the slaughter.

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    Reader Comments (4)

    Come on, Fig. You're saying that "He gave the present to she and I" doesn't make you cringe?
    January 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMaria
    Oh, it does, Maria. But then, Figaro is very upper-class. Snobs like us were making fun of improper high-class attempts thousands of years ago. The figure of speech for incorrect fanciness: cacozelia, or "shitty mimicry."
    January 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    It's funny. A few months ago, I discovered that I was a rube for including the 'T' sound when pronouncing 'often.' Call me a shibboleth
    January 11, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermarco
    Not nearly as much of a rube as my high school gym teacher, who told me I was no atha-lete.
    January 11, 2012 | Registered CommenterFigaro

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