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AWADmail Issue 587 - Extra

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Tidbits about Words and Language

Shibboleths

This is a continuation of the compilation of readers' responses to the shibboleth contest. See others at AWADmail 587.

Pronouncing aluminum as ah-loo-min-eum is one of my favorite British shibboleths. Being an American chemist myself, I sometimes assume this shibboleth when I feel like having a little fun (ex. "I have a Friedel-Crafts reaction to do, has anyone see my Ahhh-looo-min-E-ummm trichloride?" Pro-tip: begin with a throaty pirate arghh then inexplicably switch to a falsetto with a spot-off British accent and take your time to clearly emphasize each syllable).
-Jim P. Boyce, Bethesda, Maryland (jim.boyce nih.gov)

When I hear someone use "spendy" in place of "pricey", I can be pretty sure the person is from Oregon, or from a bordering community. It's the only place I've heard that usage. What's interesting to me is that "spendy" puts the onus on the buyer; "pricey", common everywhere else, puts it on the seller.
-Johanna Cummings, Portland, Oregon (johannasc mac.com)

The word "shibboleth" identifies a group of people who are well-educated, a custom becoming dangerously outmoded.
-Judy A. Bernstein, San Diego, California (JudyABernstein aol.com)

In the late 1970s and 1980s, in the US at least, one could discern the political stance of a native English speaker by how they pronounced Chile. People who supported the overthrow of Salvador Allende said "Chilly" (rhymes with Willie) People who supported Allende pronounced it "CHI-lay". The same dichotomy occurred with Nicaragua. It was pronounced 'Nicker-AH-gwa' by those who supported the Contras and by an approximation of the Latin American Spanish pronunciation by Sandinista supporters.
-Kathryn Sweeney, Sacramento, California (kathryn.sweeney ucdmc.ucdavis.edu)

When my husband is a passenger in the car he responds to my text messages for me! On reaching our destination I always have to phone friends and family to apologise or explain. After the laughter dies down I am assured "No need to explain -- we knew it was Gordon!" My husband's shibboleth is any texting he does!
-Beryl Semple, Hopetoun, Australia (berylsemple westnet.com.au)

Geoduck pronounced as gooey-duck. Very few people out of the area pronounce it correctly.
-Susan Bach, Port Angeles, Washington (bachzoble wavecable.com)

I work for The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. Within our vast company, a large number of employees work at the Parks & Resorts (P&R). Those "front facing" to customers and guests are considered to be "on stage" and "performing" while at work -- thus they are called "Cast Members" rather than employees. We can always tell when dealing with a current or former member of the P&R team when they refer to themselves or other employees as "Cast Members".
-Lisa Robertiello, Glendale, California (lisa.robertiello disney.com)

You can tell that someone has not spent much time in San Francisco lately, or ever, when they refer to her as San Fran or Frisco. To the best of my knowledge, she goes only by SF or The City. My out-of-town brother is aware of this, and will even use the name San Frisco to get my tragus.
-Greg Coladonato, Mountain View, California (gcoladon gmail.com)

My favorite shibboleth is the double space after a period in a written document. I fist noticed it while taking some online classes. It clearly says "I'm old enough to have used a typewriter."
-Gary Rogers, Kingsburg, California (grogers559 gmail.com)

As a lawyer, when you see the following, "Smith v Brown", you say Smith and Brown, not Smith versus Brown. It becomes automatic, after a few months in law school. So much so, when you see a sports match e.g. Manchester United v Manchester City, you have to make a conscious effort to say versus rather than and. This is true for the courts in the Commonwealth; I am not sure if it holds true the Courts in the US.
-Jan Peltier, Barbuda, Antigua and Barbuda (janpeltier hotmail.com)

Malta has two official languages, English and (not surprisingly) Maltese. Most Maltese are very fluent in English, and many speak English as a first language. Their shibboleth is pronouncing 'th' as 't'. So I attended a TEDx talk and momentarily wondered what 'tree-d mathematics' was.
-Amanda May Holmes, Sliema, Malta (amandamayholmes yahoo.co.uk)

On the kibbutz in Israel where I live, my husband's family (all 63 of them!) has a very specific whistle which identifies the Albeg "Clan". If I hear that whistle I know that there is an Albeg around somewhere and it's excellent for getting a family member's attention in a crowd.
-Lucie Manning-Albeg, Kibbutz Alonim, Israel (lucie_albeg hotmail.com)

My favorite shibboleth popped immediately to mind: the child's game Duck, duck, goose, where the kids sit in a circle, whoever is 'it' taps their heads saying "Duck. Duck. Duck..." and when they get to the person they choose to chase them around circle, in most states they say "Goose!" But in my home state of Minnesota, we say "Grey duck." No one who isn't from Minnesota has ever heard of such a thing, and they think I'm crazy when I tell them I grew up playing "Duck duck grey duck".
-Laura Teeter, Troy, New York (lauras_box hotmail.com)

I live in Sequim (pronounced Skwim). I dream of opening a store called "Sequim Sequins" someday ... just to mess with people).
-Corey A. Edwards, Sequim, Washington (sevrinx2 gmail.com)

In Clonmel in County Tipperary in Ireland, instead of saying "Hello" they say "Well".
-Rachel Moir, Dublin, Ireland (rachel.moir bsci.com)

I have found in my work as a Sign Language interpreter that Deaf people also have developed a few shibboleths. My favorite one is this: There are many types of hearing loss. Those who are born deaf and utilize Sign Language as their main mode of communication consider themselves culturally Deaf (capital D) and they are a tight-knit group. There is a Sign used to refer to someone else who was born with hearing and later became deaf (small d), to distinguish him/her from the culturally Deaf; it is the Sign for "hearing" (which is done with the index finger at the chin and the palm perpendicular to the floor, the index finger moving in a small circular motion). The shibboleth happens when this Sign is moved up to the forehead area to indicate that even though the person is mechanically deaf, his/her thought process, attitude and orientation is more identifiable with hearing people.
-Addy Whitehouse, Skokie, Illinois (afrancesw gmail.com)

Five generations of my family have lived in Wallkill, a very small hamlet in New York state's Hudson Valley. We're considered newcomers by some standards -- other families have been here far longer -- but a true test to see if you're local is to pronounce DuBois, a founding family name and also one of the streets in town. If you say "DOO-boys" or "DUH-boyce", you're a local; if it's "DOO-bwa" then you are definitely not from around here.
-Julie Moussot, Wallkill, New York (witherel65 aol.com)

When New Jerseyans visit the coast they are said to have "Gone down the Shore". The "to" is discarded. This applies in all cases, even if someone travels north. You do not "Go to the beach" until you have "Gone down the Shore". You do not rent a "beach house", but a "shore house".
-Thomas R. Palasits, New York, New York (tom roycefunds.com)

One of my all time favorite websites for MANY years is a Harvard Dialect Study from 2003. Their maps of dialectal usage in the United States is fascinating and brought back many memories of Southern usages I'd heard and used as a child but had long forgotten (like hearing my grandmother tell me to go get a buggy at the supermarket to put our groceries in).
-Benjamin Avant, Dallas, Texas (benjamin benjaminavant.com)

There are a lot of shibboleths in Turkish politics. If you say turban (türban) that means you are a republican or indeed a supporter of the Republican People's Party, and if you say headscarf (bas örtüsü) that means you are a democrat or indeed a supporter of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or at least not supporter of Republican People's Party.
-Fatih Teoman Kaya, Ankara, Turkey (fatihteoman yahoo.com)

How is the state of Oregon pronounced? Not Or-uh-GONE. Pronounced like "organ", the instrument they play at weddings and funerals. When I was a kid growing up there, on TV commercials I routinely heard it pronounced wrong, as in "Send $19.95 to Box 1200, Portland, Or-uh-GONE ...", and we knew that commercial wasn't produced in Portland.
-Dean Moore, Boulder, Colorado (dino deanlm.com)

Although I live 500 miles away, I can tell a true Detroiter by his use of the plural/possessive form of "Ford", as in The Ford Motor Company:
My brother worked the night shift at Ford's while attending the U of M.
Saginaw Steering was a major supplier to Ford's and Chrysler during that time.
A more recently arrived Detroit area resident might say, "I've applied to Ford, GM, and Detroit Gasket for a job", a sure tip-off that the speaker does not have deep roots in the area.
-Blaine Betts, Marquette, Michigan (blainebetts gmail.com)

When I was a student at Mount Holyoke College, we were told on the first day that Holyoke was not pronounced like a sacred tree (holy oak) but an unbroken egg (whole yolk).
-Catherine Campbell, Nevada, Missouri (catherine.campbell53 yahoo.com)

The frequency of use of the word CONTEXT (as in, it depends on the context) tells me I am speaking with a fellow translator.
-Adriana Tortoriello, London, UK (adriana.tortoriello gmail.com)

When you call a person either by name or by phone and he/she responds by saying "What happened?", you can be (damn) sure that he/she is from Goa, India.
-U V Kini, Hyderabad, India (uvksat yahoo.com)

You can pick put a person from Pittsburgh, Pa if they use "yinz" (second person plural).
-Lisa Peck, Florida (lpeck shorecrest.org)

The original name of the town of Mason City in Iowa was Shibboleth.
-Jay Cole Simser, Ames, Iowa (jaycoles aol.com)

I received an email from a Professor, not known to me, and he ended his e-mail Floreat. It is unusual to see Latin (correctly used) in an e-mail so I enquired whether he was Old Etonian, he was! Eton's college motto is Floreat Etona -- Let Eton flourish.
-Brian Michie, Isle of Lewis, Scotland (brianmichie doctors.org.uk)

Some of my favorite shibboleths hinge not on pronunciation but on word emphasis. The Sherlock Holmes story "The Five Orange Pips" features a mysterious envelope containing five seeds ("pips") cut from an orange. Those who've read the story know to stress the word "Orange" in the title; everyone else tends to emphasize "Pips" (as if Gladys Knight's backup singers had carotenosis). Similarly, the film "The Big Red One" (stress on "One") refers to a red numeral 1 on a shoulder patch; folks who haven't seen it often emphasize "Red" (as if answering the question: "Which of those dogs is named Clifford?").
-Dave Zobel, Los Angeles, California (dzobel alumni.caltech.edu)

I do a lot of Perl programming, and try to keep up with the jargon. Since there's not much verbal interaction in the community, many of us are caught out with shibboleths because we don't get together often. Here are a few: Randal Schwartz talks of PERL as a shibboleth. While outsiders may write "PERL", insiders write "Perl" for the name of the language, and ""perl" for the executable.
-Kwan Tamakanic, Toronto, Canada (quantum.mechanic.1964 gmail.com)

The phrase or saying: "You put your foot in it!" or "I put my foot in it!" is often used by African-Americans to indicate that something is particularly tasty or well done. For example, I make a very good mac 'n' cheese. My friends and family members will say after eating it, "Girl, you put your foot in it!" meaning that I gave it my best efforts or all (down to my feet/toes). It can also be used by the person who has accomplished or done something to describe his efforts. For instance, when someone compliments me about a dish or cake that I have made, I can reply, "Thanks. I put my foot in it!" When I have used this phrase among non-African Americans especially young children, I always receive a glare, a puzzled reaction, or a surprised look of sheer horror as they think that my toes might have actually touched their food.
-Gail K. Johnson, Mitchellville, Maryland (gail.k.johnson usdoj.gov)

I think it fair to say that any native Chicagoan or longtime resident would recognize what the code words "Next Year" referred to. The chance of the Cubs winning the series. I can vouch for at least a forty-year usage of this Chicago baseball shibboleth.
-Jeanette Ertel, Chicago, Illinois (jeanertel gmail.com)

I'm from the South, and you'll occasionally hear people say "make groceries". It comes from the French influence of Louisiana and parts of Texas, where one would say "faire de shopping".
-Corrisa Jackson, Killeen, Texas (crissameister gmail.com)

Here are a few Canadian shibboleths. Like us Canadians, they are mild and seemingly innocuous, but they immediately register the presence of a fellow countryman who has descended to the southern giant known as -- a shibboleth itself -- "The States".
"Take off!": Meaning: "You're kidding! Get out of here! (figuratively or literally)
"The States": The United States - never the "US" or "America"
"Process" - first syllable rhymes with "row" or "toe"
-Jeffrey Harper, New York, New York (jeffrey harperjeffrey.com)

In Rhode Island, where I went to college, people called a milkshake a cabinet. Very confusing for a Texas girl!
-Carol E. Hickman, Portland, Oregon (cehickman gmail.com)

My shibboleth is from Southwestern Pennsylvania, specifically Pittsburgh. This is the only place I know of where rubber bands are referred to as "gumbands". Although I have moved around the country and have tried to eradicate all traces of my Pittsburgh accent, as long as I can say gumband and know that the people of Pittsburgh will understand me, all is right with the world, if not the word.
-Wayde Killmeyer, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (wayde_k yahoo.com)

I moved to San Francisco nine years ago from New Jersey. People like me go back east for a visit. However, San Franciscans say "back east" to refer to the eastern states, even if they have never been there. "They have hurricanes back east. How can people live there?" For their part, easterners say, "out west".
-Barbara Klingsporn, San Francisco, California (barbara retrotech.org)

If someone says they live in "New York City" they are recent arrivals. We "real" natives, when asked by other Americans where we were born, always say "New York" (no "City") and when asked were we live -- yes, it's just, "the city".
-Stephen Feld, New York, New York (drshf aol.com)

I propose sipa, which is Bolognese dialect for si and is known as the identifier for the Bolognese (see, for example, Inferno, Canto XVIII).
-Richard A. Hartzell, Taipei, Taiwan (hartzellr tas.edu.tw)

What is your good name? An elderly Indian would typically ask the question this way.
-Jagdeesh Sardesai, Mumbai, India (jagdeesh.sardesai gmail.com)

In South Africa, where I grew up, you could always distinguish the kids in school who grew up in Afrikaans homes because they all used the word borrow to mean both borrow and lend. As in "Could you borrow me your pen?" This is because Afrikaans only has one word for those two English words.
-Joe Schermoly, Chicago, Illinois (howzitjs gmail.com)

In the US upper midwest (Minnesota & Wisconsin) people often say "borrow" when they mean "lend". "Will you borrow me a pencil?" Lots of Swedes & Norwegians up here. In the Nordic languages, borrow & lend are the same word, like "rent" in English. I can rent an apartment from you. You can rent an apartment to me.
-Dave Jones, St Paul, Minnesota (davejones39 hotmail.com)

The US military used to ask suspected Nazi spies, "How many homers did The Babe hit in 1927?", an answer, 60, that any GI, any American, would know in 1944. Canadian intelligence in the 1980 and 1990s, doubting the provenance of a person who claimed to be from Toronto, questioned him with, "What is the phone number for Pizza Pizza?" The answer, 967-1111 is one that no one who lived, or even stayed, in Toronto could possibly miss.
-D. Bruce Brown, Columbia, Maryland (dbrucebrown verizon.net)

The US was not in WW2 initially and did not want Americans to fight in it. Nonetheless some Americans wanted to join so they came up to Canada to do so. At the border (or recruiting place), they'd be asked to recite the alphabet starting from the end. If they started by saying ZEE (instead of ZED), they were sent back.
-Carolanne Reynolds, West Vancouver, Canada (gg wordsmith.org)

I am originally from New York but currently live in north Texas. I never heard this before I moved here, but now it is a shibboleth to me that someone is from north Texas or Oklahoma if they say "whenever" as if it's interchangeable with "when".
"Whenever I was in high school, I was a cheerleader."
"Whenever I was young, we did not have indoor bathrooms."
-Jennifer Stiever, Texas (jenbaby68 hotmail.com)

When I hear someone use "whenever" in the sense of "when" (e.g., "whenever the house burned down"), I know there's a good chance they're from Southwestern Pennsylvania.
-Jim Waldfogle, Cincinnati, Ohio (jim.waldfogle burke.com)

My parents are from India, I was born in America, and I'm living in Switzerland right now, so language and word use has always been a big part of my upbringing. Switzerland is a country that prides itself on micro-dialects and identifying people to the town based on their lexicon and pronunciation. I suppose they are a bit too numerous to detail, but one quite fetching shibboleth is that people from Bern use the term das Quelleheureest-il to mean a wristwatch (which literally means "what time is it", in French). The French influences in Swiss German are stark identifiers of native German speakers versus native Swiss German speakers as well, even when both are speaking high German. For instance, an umbrella is das Parapluie in Swiss German and der Regenschirm in high german, etc, etc.
-Saee Paliwal, Zurich, Switzerland (paliwal biomed.ee.ethz.ch)

When it comes to English place names I think the prize goes to a Norfolk seaside village of Happisburgh. I asked a local labourer where Happisburg was and he did not know the village five miles away. When I showed him the map he called it Haysboro.
-Greg Webber, Perth, Australia (greg.webber ato.gov.au)

I live in South Africa and one SA expression that I use and which amuses my European friends is 'just now'. It is used when one asks anything like 'When will you go and do so and so' and means anything but Just Now. In half an hour or longer or shorter, but it does mean that it will be done eventually. I know there are others but cannot think of them 'just now'.
-Nicky Buchwald, Kwa zulu Natal, South Africa (nickybuchwald webafrica.org.za)

When I moved to Washington State from South Carolina I struggled with many of the names. Be careful of accidentally referring to Mount Rainier as if it were located in Monaco. They will revoke your driver's license if you say Mount Rahn-yay.
-Elain Witt, Provo, Utah (elainwitt gmail.com)

During my lifetime I have lived (three years or more) in five countries. When I speak Spanish, any native Spanish speaker immediately knows that I was taught Spanish in Mexico, because I use the diminutive "ito" freely ('momentito' instead of 'un momento').
-Prunella Barlow, North Vancouver, Canada (prunella shaw.ca)

In the US military, 'Respectfully' is restricted to someone of the same or just inferior rank. 'Very Respectfully' for someone of superior rank. In the UK military it tends to be more complicated, and is generally the following, "Aye" (Scots for "Always" and used between UK military officers who are familiar), Yours (used between officers who are close), "Yours Sincerely" (formal), "Your Obedient Servant" (formal to a senior officer), "I Remain Your Obedient Servant" (for ongoing communication), "Yours Respectfully" (rarely), (when neutrality or indifference is seen to be appropriate). New and cleverer forms of complimentary closing are always being invented and that too is part of the routine and is a shibboleth. In the UK military we read a great deal into this "complimentary closing". For example, the attitude of the writer, the degree of respect, the status, possibly the background, and even class. And this is a shibboleth at its best.
-Laurie Daykin, Brussels, Belgium (laurie.daykin gmail.com)

First, the word "Military" refers only to the Army in formal, exact usage. Armed Forces or "Service men and women" refer to the full panoply (a particularly apt word) of USA, USN, USMC, and USAF plus in wartime USCG (usually listed, and paraded, in order of establishment). Examples: The Military Academy is in NY. The Naval Academy is in MD.
Second, although few in the Armed Forces realize it, in the Navy, "Respectfully" or "R" is sent from a senior to a junior, and "Very respectfully" ("V/R"), is signed by a junior to a senior, usually in official correspondence. "R" is for peers as well, although strictly speaking, every officer has a place in precedence order, as determined by date of graduation/commissioning, and within dates, his or her academic grades and other factors such as fitness grades in school, and we all have a book listing us all, so to be exact, we don't really have "peers". Most officers, when signing to fellow Naval Officers in formal but unofficial capacity, use Regards (R) or Warm regards (WR) which don't have seniority connotations, but convey the degree of connection. It is common to see either of these sign-off types in communications to non-Navy recipients, as you have noted. It is somewhat less common to see them in emails, because many former Naval Officers adhere to brevity, because in days of Morse code, and even in teletype, every character counted. Likewise, naval messages used all caps to avoid the addition of case shifts to messages. It sometimes looks like we are SHOUTING, to modern eyes, but it may be simply habit. The caps shift has recently been re-instated, apparently because of the Internet protocol of SHOUTING, or perhaps because either bandwidth will support it, or (a guess?) the new character codes don't differentiate.
In spoken communications, the formal, exact usage is "Respects" to seniors and "Compliments" to juniors. An example is the report, conveyed by a Seaman to the Captain: "Sir, the Officer of the Deck sends his respects and reports that [USS] Dewey is standing into harbor." The Captain might then reply "Give my compliments to the Officer of the Deck and ask that he report when she is moored and ready to receive visitors."
-Richard L. Coleman, Capt, USN, (Ret), Alexandria, Virginia (richard.lewis.coleman gmail.com)

When my stepdaughter was a four-year-old she asked her mother one Connecticut morning, "Why do we call this an egg?" Her mom, who has a PhD in Germanic languages and a master's in linguistics and who did not believe in talking down to children, launched into a disquisition on the origins of language and was at about the metamorphosis of grunts into words when the little one said, with some impatience, "No, no, no! Why do we call this an egg? When we lived in West Virginia it was an aig!"
-Bob Projansky, Portland, Oregon (rprojansky comcast.net)

In the San Francisco Bay Area, you can tell a recent transplant by the way they refer to our Bay Area Rapid Transit system. Locals say "BART" while others refer to "The BART".
-Maureen Ray, California (ucsdmreen yahoo.com)

My daughter attended a sports competition over the summer and met teenagers from all over the United States, Canada, and South America. She told me that she and the other teens from the San Francisco Bay Area taught those from the other locales a term that is near and dear to SF Bay Area residents (mostly teens). The word is hella -- as in "That hamburger tasted hella good."
-Tammi Goldstein, San Francisco, California (tlge pge.com)

Two immediately spring to mind from my upbringing in Northern Ireland during the troubles. It was possible to discern a person's religion by asking them to recite the alphabet. The letter 'H' was pronounced 'aitch' by Protestants, 'haitch' by Catholics, as a by-product of the segregated education system. Similarly, a reference to Ulster's second city as 'Derry' marked the speaker as a Catholic, whilst a Protestant would say 'Londonderry'.
-Niall Caldwell, Edinburgh, Scotland (niall.caldwell@heineken.co.uk)

A very common word in India, but little-known elsewhere, is prepone. It's used in the sense opposed to "postpone", a well-established and understood word in English language.
-Umesh Garg, Notre Dame, Indiana (umesh.garg.1 nd.edu)

If you were in Pittsburgh, you would "sleep in" if you were staying home from work, "ret up" if you were cleaning your room, ask for a "pop" if you wanted a soda. There are so many of these shibboleths that are unique to Pitts; that one could make a long list of them.
-Elaine Angelini, New York, New York (elaine.angelini rcn.com)

People from Philadelphia PA say "wooder", for water. I've lived in LA CA for years and I can tell when someone is from Philadelphia by this word alone. We Philadelphians are a tribe, no matter how far we roam. Soft pretzels with mustard and wooder.
-Lisa Cantor, Encino, California (mxsq2 aol.com)

I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, a town that was full of Germanic descendants. At the age of 12, my parents took the family to the Grand Canyon -- way out west. As I gazed upon the Wonders of Nature, a woman behind me addressed me, but I didn't catch her words clearly. Turning around, I said; "Please?". "Oh", she exclaimed, "You are from Cincinnati!" I was shocked at her clairvoyance. Later in high school, my German teacher explained that the German word "bitte", actually translates as "please", but is generally used to mean "Please repeat your question."
-Robert Stoffer, Hawaii (kb konaweb.com)

Loved this explanation of the word shibboleth used in a battle not far from my home. (Nothing is far in Israel, since we are such a small country). Israelis while speaking English will never say "What's the catch?" Instead, they will say, "What's the Catch 22?" Which is a shibboleth that "catches", Israelis while travelling abroad as though the word "Israeli", is written on his forehead.
-Aizic Sechter, Israel (sabaisio gmail.com)

Here is Cincinnati, I have come under fire for calling the insulated boxes you take camping 'ice chests'. No joke, there were a few people who would blush every time I said 'ice chest' and would correct me by reminding me it's called a cooler.
-Mindy Allen, Cincinnati, Ohio (mindy.allen thinkchamplin.com)

When I moved from New York to Kentucky, I learned that people in the state gave a Frenchish pronunciation to Louisville (loo-a-vul?) but pronounced Versailles (ver-SAILS) as though it were English.
-Chris Advincula, Kentucky (cadvincula aol.com)

We always say "my mother" or "my father", even when speaking with our siblings present. There is no Turkish equivalent of mom, mommy, dad, daddy, etc. in Turkish. There's only the formal "mother" (anne) and "father" (baba). But when speaking about our parents, we always add the possessive suffix "-m" as in "annem" and "babam". So, when we speak English, we translate the possessive suffix to "my mother" and "my father." On many occasions, my friends have interrupted me to ask "do you and your sister have a different mother? or father?"
In Turkish, we have a verb conjugation that implies third hand knowledge or even hearsay and gossip. It is also used in story telling, as in fairy stories. So, when a Turk wants to convey this implied third hand knowledge of a fact or pass on a gossip, we're lost for words. We usually end up saying something wordy like "it seems". It seems they are divorced, it seems they arrived before us didn't see us and left early, it seems she she's working so hard she doesn't have time to return messages...
-Elif Selvili, Austin, Texas (selvili yahoo.com)

As a Spanish speaker I recognize my fellow Latin Americans and Spanish because we are eSpanish espeakers. An e (pronounced like the Spanish e) will always be added to a minor or major degree to any word that estarts in s, (esport, estate).
-Ana Maria Botero-Anug, Tel Aviv, Israel (am_botero yahoo.com)

In the software industry, the usual word for the compiled text that makes up computer programs is code, and it is used like the words deer, fish, or sheep. One speaks of "the code", or "some code", never "a code". But people who learned how to program on supercomputers in the scientific programming world often refer to their text as "codes". Whenever I hear a programmer talk about their "codes", this shibboleth tells me that they were probably trained in a national lab.
-Derek Jones, Seattle, Washington (dtj mac.com)

An Italian shibboleth is the way people from Florence and surroundings pronounce words beginning with a "c" followed by "a". In standard Italian this "c" is pronounced with a guttural sound "k". In Florence they pronounce it "h" (aspirated sound like in "hammer"). For example, the word "casa" (house) is pronounced "kah-sa" in standard Italian, but "hah-sa" in the Florentine accent. This shibboleth characterizes the Florentines and those living in Tuscany near Florence.
-Michele Laraia, Austria (michele.laraia aon.at)

Certainly, the pronunciation "trawna" for "Toronto" ... only "pure Torontonians" do that! Another shibboleth is the use of passwords with the "p" sound in Israel. Arabs cannot pronounce "p" and it sounds like a "b" instead.
-Linda Yechiel, Rishon le Zion, Israel (englishwithlinda gmail.com)

"Wicked Pissah" Definitely defines our little part of the country; Boston MA. It means "awesome!"
-Maureen Ahokas, Hingham, Massachusetts (tasmanian hotmail.com)

You're probably going to get a lot about how Houston Street in NYC is called HOW-ston and not HU-ston but perhaps how I use this as an example to teach others about shibboleths and pronunciation will set me apart from the rest? I teach ESL in the city and occasionally take my students on a field trip/scavenger hunt where they must ask a stranger where "Houston Street" is. They then have to report back on how the overall exchange went, what the stranger said, how his/her attitude was. Some students use the correct pronunciation, some don't. Most strangers correct those who say HU-ston and, surprisingly enough, most of the strangers don't give the students too much of the notorious New York attitude.
-Patrick Russell, New York (pjrussell hotmail.com)

In the eighties I was staying at a hostel in Christchurch, New Zealand. As I prepared my dinner, a European hosteler said, "You're an American, I can tell. Only Americans trim the stem end off their tomatoes."
-Lynn Gordon, Los Gatos, California (lynnmuse earthlink.net)

The word "shibboleth" itself became a shibboleth which identified my granddad as a chaplain in World War II. He was overseas serving as a chaplain in the European Theater. He and some of the enlisted men were playing a game of Horse. In the game, the men took turns around the circle adding one letter each to spell a word. The first player to be unable to think of a word and add a letter would be out. On this particular day, the men had decided, prior to the game, to play a good-natured prank on the chaplain. During a round of the game when he would be the fourth player, it was prearranged that the first three men would use the letters "s-h-i" leaving "Chappy" to have to complete the word with the obvious --"t" and put him in an embarrassing position. Sure enough, when his turn came, the only word that came to him was the obvious. But, these men did not know my granddad's determination, good humor, and fierce desire to do right AND to BE right! He thought and thought of a way around the problem. The men teased him, saying, "come on, Chappy, you know the answer! It's the only one! Say it, Chappy, say it!" Finally, in an inspired stroke, my granddad triumphantly shouted, "B!" The men protested, saying he had no real word in mind. He told them the word was "shibboleth". They then challenged him, insisting that he had made up the word to dodge the prank. But, being a biblical scholar, well-versed in Jewish history, he held his ground and defined the word. The men remained unmoved. Ever persistent, he then wrote to my grandma who was back home in Texas and asked her to please tear that page from the dictionary and send it to him as proof! (No Wikipedia or instant communication.) When the page arrived, he showed the men, thus beating them at their own game, staying true to his beliefs and strengthening an already good rapport with the men in his unit. Thanks for bringing back a great memory of a great man!
-Stephanie Markgraf, Midland, Texas (lottiemoon ingh.net)

In Australia, one thing which indicates age is what you say on being introduced to someone. If you're over 50, you're more likely to use the British formula, "How do you do?" If you're under 50, you're less likely to understand what this means. If you're under 40, you definitely won't understand it -- like Americans, you'll think that "How do you do?" is a polite enquiry about your health, and you'll answer, "I'm fine, thanks". For Australians under 50 (and definitely for those under 40), the thing to say on being introduced is now the American formula, "Pleased to meet you."
-Grant Agnew, Brisbane, Australia (ggttwwaa gmail.com)

I grew up in Western New York where sandwich was pronounced samwich and grocery was pronounced grochery. When I hear those two words, I know I'm talking with someone from WNY.
-Laura Gardner (lkgar18 gmail.com)

As a biologist, my colleagues tend to come in two flavors: "field people" who study trees, birds, or creepy critters, and "medical people" who study bodies and what goes wrong with them. One shibboleth that quickly and easily sorts the two is the term "DNR"-- both groups use it freely, but to one it means Department of Natural Resources, and to the other, Do Not Resuscitate. There is also a growing third category of "lab people" who study genes and molecules; I'm just waiting for them to give that name to a class of proteins or a gene family so that they can once again be part of the club.
-Dr. Catherine L. E. Craker, Ada, Ohio (catherine.craker gmail.com)

If someone responds to the question "And what do you do?" with the answer "I am an attorney", instead of "a lawyer", I know I am talking with someone who has an inflated view of himself and thus with a need to preen himself. If someone addresses me (I am a lawyer) by the title "counsellor", I know that I am talking with someone who worked in an administrative or security role within the court or penal system.
-Richard L. Wise, Salem, Massachusetts (RLW WiseAdvice.biz)

We Canadians are easily identified by two shibboleths: our ability to use the word "eh" at the beginning, middle, and end of a sentence to convey a variety of messages (see Orkin's Canajan, Eh?), and our compulsion to apologize. Sorry, eh?
-Sheree Wilson, Sault Ste. Marie, Canada (sheree.wilson shaw.ca)

Here in the South, northerners are confounded by the following exchange:
"Do you want a Coke?"
"Yes."
"What kind?"
No, we're not talking about New, Diet or Zero. "Coke", in these parts is a generic, and a perfectly natural answer to the latter question would be "7 Up" or "Pepsi".
-Jim Shamblin (jim.shamblin gmail.com)

The theater where I worked in Germany (as an opera soloist), had, in addition to the opera, a ballet company. After only a few days I was able to tell the opera singers from the ballet dancers without seeing them in rehearsal. How? No, not by their girth! It was the feet that gave it away: the ballet dancers had, after years of practicing, a typical walk with turned out toes.
-Katherine Stone, Bremen, Germany (kstone.reichelt googlemail.com)

The Danes have a shibboleth. It's the Danish for red pudding with cream on it. The phrase in Danish is Rødgrød med fløde paa. It is almost impossible for a non-native speaker of Danish to pronounce it correctly.
-Stephen Turner, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (turnerguns gmail.com)

My husband can narrow down how he might have known someone during various stages of his 75 years of life by how they address him:
Bobby Glenn: used only by family members
Bobby: high school and college
Krohn: law school
Counsel: judges and lawyers
Captain: army
Bob: adult friends
Robert: telemarketers
Dad: children
Papa: grandchildren
There are probably other names not used to his face.
-Janet Krohn, Corinth, Mississippi (janetkrohn comcast.net)

The use of "Democrat" (rather than "Democratic") Party often indicates that the writer or speaker is a conservative Republican. It seems that conservatives use Democrat as a slur and avoid using Democratic for fear that it implies that the party founded by Jefferson and Jackson might be grounded on the principles of democracy.
-Blaine Betts, Marquette, Michigan (blainebetts gmail.com)

When I moved to Boston from Ohio I lived near Route (rhymed with "out") 9. In New England they say route like "root". My friend told me there hadn't been a "route since Paul Revere routed the sleeping Minutemen!"
-Judy Davis, Massachusetts (judy707b yahoo.com)

Protestants pronounce "schism" with as "skism." Catholics pronounce it is "sism". Protestant pronounce "Augustine" emphasizing the first syllable, AH-gus-teen. Catholics pronounce it uh-GUS-tn.
-Judy Andre, Spokane, Washington (andre msu.edu)

I come from Govan in Glasgow, Scotland and here, if you go to 'chapel', you are Roman Catholic, if you go to church, you are Protestant. Nowadays, if you go to either, you are one of a dying breed!
-Stan D. Firth, Glasgow, Scotland (sfirth69 aol.com)

I think "go with", as in "I'm going to the store" and the response is "I'll go with" is a Chicago thing. We never finish the sentence.
-MaryAnn Fenton, Hinsdale, Illinois (maryannfenton sbcglobal.net)

"Please do the needful" is a phrase which I see constantly when working with our business partners in India.
-Jason B. White, Columbus, Ohio (jason.white anthem.com)

I am Puerto Rican, from San Juan, the capital, to the north. We call the nickel "vellón", but the people from Ponce (southern large city) call the vellón "ficha". Anywhere in the Island, if somebody calls a nickel a ficha, you know he/she is Ponceño.
-Gina Delucca, San Juan, Puerto Rico (gina mimundillopr.com)

There are several name places that are mispronounced by visitors:
Versailles, IN pronounced Ver-SALES
Vienna, OH pronounced Vy-EN-na
Russia, OH pronounced ROO-sha
Louisville, OH actually pronounced LOO-iss-ville
However, Louisville, KY which most of the country pronounces Loo-ee-ville, is pronounced by the locals as Luh-ah-vuhl.
-John Pletikapich, Cincinnati, Ohio (john.pletikapich honeywell.com)

This is not really a word or pronunciation, but I think it's a shibboleth. Whenever Peace Corps Volunteers (or even Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, for that matter) come into a conversation with someone with a foreign accent, they immediately switch to "special English", or a slower, more-enunciated version of their usual speaking speed.
-Michele Harbison, Philadelphia area, Pennsylvania (harbisonx verizon.net)

Native Texans know that the town of Mexia is pronounced Ma-hay-uh. A local joke has two men sitting in a fast-food restaurant in that community arguing over the correct pronunciation of the name. One of the men asks their waitress, "Ma'am, how do you pronounce the name of this place?". She happily answers with a Texas drawl, "Day-ree Kweeeen."
-Bill R. Cotten, Willow Park, Texas (brcotten att.net)

Orthodox Jews refer to religious studies as "learning" as opposed to studying, e.g. Where are you learning? I'm learning at the Bobover yeshiva with Rabbi Chochem.
-Jody Hirsh, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (jodyhirsh aol.com)

Fans of science fiction generally refer to the genre as "SF" or sometimes as 'SpecFic" (short for "Speculative Fiction", a term promoted and perhaps coined by the late Robert A. Heinlein"). People outside the fan community often refer to it as "SciFi" (pronounced to rhyme with "HiFi" or "WiFi") which many SF fans consider to have a condescending or negative implication.
-David E. Siegel, Silver Spring, Maryland (siegel acm.org)

When I was a college student in Chicago (many years ago), I learned that native Chicagoans proudly pronounced Goethe Street as "GO-thee" (where the "th" in "thee" is pronounced as in "think", not as in "than").
-Laura Straus, Dillon, Montana (straus5 aol.com)

There is one word that will set you apart, and define you unmistakenly as an Anglo-Argentine! The word is "camp". The American "ranch" brings up the thought of Roy Rogers, Indians, etc. etc. The British word "farm" makes you think of "small" and Farmer Brown and his cow Daisy, "homestead" is too Australian to be worth a mention. The dictionary (Appleton) gives many words for "estancia": dwelling, habitation, living room AND (Am.) small farm. Small farm? Many estancieros used/use a small aeroplane to cover their land. So ... we use "camp". The dictionary defines camp as either military, boy scouts' or involving mining quarters. But for us a "camp" is an estancia.
-Alice Adamson, Argentina (aliceadamson telecentro.com.ar)

Differentiating freeways seems to be very regional. I can always tell someone is from the Los Angeles area, not northern California, since they use "The 101" or "The 5" when referring to said freeways. In the San Francisco area, they are called "I-5" or just "101". In the Chicago area, freeways are usually called "The Kennedy" or "The Eisenhower" and rarely referred to by their number.
-Tamara Krautkramer, Sonoma, California (tamarakk mac.com)

I grew up in Montreal where -- when you undertook your list of things to do and places to go (dry cleaner, grocery store, post office, etc.) you said that you were "doing messages". Everywhere else it is called "running errands".
-Rayna Rabin, Calgary, Canada (rayna.rabin shell.com)

Rainy Seattle has two colloquialisms, one of which certainly qualifies. "Sunbreaks" is a term used in the Seattle area but nowhere else I have been. Weather forecasters use "Sunbreaks", to describe the infrequent sunny minutes in an otherwise a cloudy and gloomy day. Another NW oddity is the saying, "The mountain is out." The mountain is Mt Rainier, all 14,411ft of the glacier-capped peak which dramatically rises from sea level. While there are two mountain ranges and numerous notable peaks visible from the urban corridor, locals know "the mountain" refers only to Mt Rainier, and it is "out" when it is visible on a rare clear day.
-Tamara Krautkramer, Sonoma, California (tamarakk me.com)

A few years ago, I was eating lunch with a new colleague. I noticed she screened her mouth with her hand held vertically as she chewed.
"When were you in Japan?" I asked.
She began to answer, then asked, "How did you know I had been in Japan?"
I told her that my sister had spent a year in Japan, and returned with the same eating habit. My colleague laughed and said it had become so natural she wasn't conscious of doing it.
-Steve Patterson, Allentown, Pennsylvania (pattersons allentownsd.org)

The best shibboleth story I know comes from Vermont in the late 1990s (I was a teenager there at the time). Fred Tuttle was running against Jack McMullen in the Republican primary for a senate seat, to go up against Pat Leahy in the general election. Fred Tuttle was a "real Vermonter", well known locally from his starring role in the 1996 film "A Man With A Plan", about a dairy farmer from Tunbridge who decided to go into politics.* Jack McMullen was, as we say, "an outer stater", a flatlander from Cambridge, Mass, with too much money and no understanding of the place or its people, so Fred ran against him, pledged that his campaign fund would not exceed $16, and challenged him to a debate that was aired live on Vermont public radio. Fred handed Jack McMullen a list of Vermont town names to read aloud, and somewhere between Barre and Calais (properly pronounced as "Barry" and "Callous", as any real Vermonter would know) Jack McMullen lost any chance he'd ever had at that nomination.
-Coriana Hunt Swartz, Watertown, Massachusetts (theaccidentalcoatmaker gmail.com)

In Austin, Texas, there's a road called "Burnet Road." Folks from out of town call it "bur NET" but the locals know: It's BUR nit, learn it, dern it!
-Stephanie Shattuck, San Francisco, California (steph eff.org)

One of the dearly held myths of baseball is that knowledge of baseball trivia served as a shibboleth during the Second World War for discovering German spies trying to penetrate American lines. It may or may not be true. There is a movie scene from the 1940s in which Van Johnson is almost arrested for being a spy because he's an aristocratic snob who doesn't follow baseball and thus doesn't know what a "texas leaguer" is. (It's a weak outfield fly ball that falls in for a hit because it's too shallow for the outfielders to get to it. Apparently, it was a beloved tactic in the Texas League, a minor league in the 1880s and 90s.)
-Eric Miller, Norwich, Vermont (ericmiller1957 gmail.com)

"Wicked" as in "wicked good", "wicked fast", "wicked awesome" etc. is indicative of someone from the Boston area -- proper or not. People in and around New England use the word.
-Elena Soini, Wall, New Jersey (esoini icloud.com)

Having grown up an Air Force brat and attending 15 schools, I'm constantly monitoring my shibboleths to fit the culture where I'm visiting or living. Now transplanted in the South, many family members still live in the North. I'm reminded of one summer when I visited relatives and attended a Civil War reenactment in Ohio. It was odd seeing all the blue uniforms when I was beginning to get use to Confederate uniforms at reenactments. But, when I passed by one group of Union troops, they tipped their hats and said, "How are you?" To which, I automatically answered, "Fine, how are ya'll." I thought they would draw their guns on me then and there. "Ya'll!?!" they turned and shouted, ready to put me in the stockade. "Uh, I meant, you guys?" Note to self: Must remember if I'm in the North or South; the words you use are dead giveaways. I'd probably never make a good spy.
-Judy Camp, Little Rock, Arkansas (jacamp ualr.edu) I find it fascinating that terms like soda vs. pop vs. soda pop or fizzy can indicate where one was raised.
-Carol Ebbinghouse, Los Angeles (carol.ebbinghouse jud.ca.gov)

Alberta's extensive bituminous sands are "the oil sands" to supporters and "the tar sands" to opponents of their development (and, by extension, to the transport of their oil by pipeline). Both being perfectly accurate descriptors, the choice depends on whether one is playing to "energy security" or "environmental hazard" sensibilities.
-Randle Wilson, Ottawa, Canada (randle.wilson international.gc.ca)

I believe the most important shibboleth in the 20th century, from an American's point of view, was lollapalooza, for which there are several spellings. All those who served in the Pacific theater against the Japanese in World War II will remember that when, in the dark of night, a figure was seen approaching a base or a stronghold, the guard would ask "who goes there?" Americans generally knew all they needed to say to identify themselves as Americans was "lollapalooza", an utterly impossible sound for a Japanese to make.
-Kibbe Fitzpatrick, New York, New York (kibbef msn.com)

Whenever I hear someone say they will bring a "hot dish" to a potluck supper, instead of saying a casserole, I know they are from Minnesota.
-Judy King, Austin, Texas (jking772 austin.rr.com)

A common shibboleth in New England (it may be more localized to Massachusetts) is the use of the word 'wicked' as an adverb to replace really or very. "Ben Affleck's new movie was wicked good!"
-Jaime Street (splatterpaint6 gmail.com)

Ever since I was a little girl, I've called the exclamation point "excitement mark", and since no one corrected me, the rest of my family has picked up on it, as well. At age 58, I still think it's the accurate term when dictating something!
-Susan Janelle, Walla Walla, Washington (sjanelle charter.net)

In the years when I was attending teacher conferences, one could distinguish primary teachers from secondary teachers by the way they wrote their names on the "Hello" name tag. Primary teachers printed their names, while secondary teachers wrote in cursive.
-Dot Jervis, Orlando, Florida (djervis cfl.rr.com)

You can be pretty sure someone grew up in the southern tier of New York State when they say they're going "down" to Rochester. Down commonly means you're heading south, but if you go south to Rochester, you're starting out somewhere in Lake Ontario. In this case, however, "down" means down in altitude. The Genesee River begins in northern Pennsylvania and flows "down" (north) through New York's southern tier to its mouth at the port of Rochester on Lake Ontario. So to get to Rochester from the southern tier, you go "down", like the river. It's the same as the term "Down East" for Maine. To get to Maine from Boston (in the old days, when you went by sailboat), you travelled "downwind" along the coast. The expression spread, beyond the sailing community, so now, if you say you're going "down Maine", you're probably a New Englander.
-Stewart Agor, Webster, New York (sbagor rochester.rr.com)

In my state, there is an intense divide over whether to pronounce the name Missour-ee or Missour-uh. "Ee" is usually urban, "uh" is usually rural or used by older people, but as linguists have observed, there are no sharp boundaries and the historical reasons for the different pronunciations are unclear. What is clear is that some (not all!) Missour-ee-ans like to sneer at Missour-uh-ans as uncultured hicks who are using the "wrong" pronunciation. And for me that's a shibboleth indicating they are clueless snobs, because the correct way to say a location's name is always the way the people who live there say it. I'm reminded of a story a docent at the Fayette County Historical Society's museum in Ansted, West Viriginia, told me about how a tourist from New York "corrected" her on Appalachian, saying it should be Appalay-shun instead of Appalatch-un. "Excuse me", my guide told her, "these are my mountains, I think I know how to pronounce them!'" Two recent discussions (1, 2) of the Missouri issue.
-Barbara MacRobie, St. Louis, Missouri (bmacrobie sbcglobal.net)

You can usually tell someone is not originally from Pennsylvania when they use the full name when identifying a place. For example, a Pennsylvanian would never say "Scranton, Pennsylvania". It's always, "Scranton, PA" (the two letters spoken consecutively). I noticed it recently since I met folks from Pittsburg, CA and Pittsburgh, PA and the California name was spoken in full and the other was PEE-AYY.
-Larry Huber, Harleysville, Pennsylvania (larry_huber comcast.net)

I think "whistling Vivaldi" (and variations on the theme) might qualify as a shibboleth. I first learned what whistling Vivaldi means in this article. -Mary Mariyampillai, Kenvil, New Jersey (mary.mariyampillai gmail.com)

When entering Oxford from the East, you travel over Magdalen Bridge and past Magdalen College (though Magdalen Street is one the other side of town altogether). But woe to the travellers who pronounce it MAG-da-len! They will be immediately identified as either tourists or freshers. The accepted Oxonian pronunciation is MAUD-lin, in keeping with the generally esoteric naming conventions in the City of Dreaming Spires.
-Alexander Sayer Gard-Murray, Oxford, UK (alexander.gard-murray politics.ox.ac.uk)

Shibboleth, West Wing style. President Bartlet further expounds.
-Laura Story, Lubbock, Texas (caprockweb yahoo.com)

Sep 29, 2013
This week's theme
Words about words

This week's words
shibboleth
hypocorism
polysemous
lapsus linguae
paregmenon

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