Sarah Albee: You Say Tomato . . . If Not, We Kill You.
From: Sarah Albee
August 03, 2012 at 05:40AM
A shibboleth is a shared word or phrase or custom used by a particular group of people that identifies the speaker as a member–or not a member–of a group. A generation ago, if you heard someone say “fuggedaboudit,” you would probably conclude that that person hailed from Brooklyn. Here are two notable examples from history.
In 1282, the Sicilians, rebelling against their Norman (French-speaking) occupiers, burst into private homes and demanded that the occupants pronounce the word “cece.” (That’s Italian for chickpea, and an Italian would say “chay-chay.”) Anyone who didn’t pronounce the word correctly–that is, a French speaker–was slaughtered on the spot.
Twenty years later, when the French occupied Belgium, the Dutch-speaking workers rose up against the French-speaking upper classes, and massacred anyone who couldn’t pronounce the phrase “schild en vriend” (“Shield and Friend”)–or possibly “‘s Gilden vriend” (“friend of the guilds”)–correctly.