Monday, 7 February 2011


I have certain favourite words. My absolute favourite is whence. Particularly in this phrase "I wist not whence they were". I like to exaggerate the 'h' in it so it sounds like you're almost out of breath. Another word I like is Shibboleth. I like the sound but I also like that I was the only one in my department at college who knew where the word came from. When our computer systems decide we can't get on the internet they say "Shibboleth. Access denied" and there is a picture of a griffin. Everyone likes griffins.

I knew that the word came from the Bible. The Jewish tribe of Gilead had won against the Ephraimites and in order to stop them crossing the rivers in the area they introduced a password. The password was "Shibboleth" as the Ephraimites could not pronounce the 'sh-' sound correctly. If anyone trying to cross the river said it wrong they were killed.

Today, the word Shibboleth has a different meaning. It is a cultural marker: something that sets out your culture from the rest. As a Christian our Shibboleth should be our love for one another. John 13:35 puts it quite clearly: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

Quick Questions

  1. When you read the word "Gilead" did you think  "The Handmaid's Tale"?
  2. "I wist not whence they were"; isn't that a great turn of phrase?
  3. What is the Shibboleth of any culture or sub-cultures you're in?
  4. Is the Shibboleth of Christianity love?

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