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I'm trying to remember a word that means a trait that identifies which side of a cultural divide someone falls on. The word would be used like this:

"They knew I was American when I pronounced 'herb' without the h sound. 'Herb' is a _____ between British and American English."

The word would often be used more locally, as something that someone says that starkly identifies them as belonging to a particular region or culture that otherwise might not be apparent--like saying crawfish vs crawdad, for example.

Thanks for any help!

1 Answer 1

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The word you are looking for is likely shibboleth, as explained by Wikipedia:

In modern English, a shibboleth can have a sociological meaning, referring to any in-group word or phrase that can distinguish members from outsiders – even when not used by a hostile other group. It is also sometimes used in a broader sense to mean jargon, the proper use of which identifies speakers as members of a particular group or subculture.

Here’s a similar example:

During World War II, some United States soldiers in the Pacific theater used the word lollapalooza as a shibboleth to challenge unidentified persons, on the premise that Japanese people often pronounce the letter L as R or confuse Rs with Ls.

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    That's exactly the right word — but note that it might not be very widely understood. Also, that you wouldn't talk of “a shibboleth between” two cultures; you'd probably say e.g. “a shibboleth that distinguishes between” two cultures.
    – gidds
    Aug 3, 2020 at 11:12
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    See Judges 12:6 in the Bible. biblegateway.com/passage/?search=judges+12&version=ESV
    – aswine
    Aug 3, 2020 at 19:24

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