Carol A. Hand
This morning, I reluctantly emerged from a hypnagogic state. I wanted to remember my strange dream. It was laden with meaning that I knew would escape me as soon as I awoke fully. Yet the early morning sun streaming through the eastern window and singing parakeets called. It was time to get up. Still, I lingered a few moments and then scribbled what I could remember in the margins of the cryptogram puzzle book by my bedside – the only paper available.
I saw a word floating in the air of my dream – shibboleth. It seemed important, but it’s not a word I ever remember using. I’m sure I’ve read it and looked it up more than once. I’ve probably written it many times before in the margins of some of the obscure texts I was trying to decipher. I have a habit of sitting with my unabridged dictionary on my lap at such times, scribbling words and definitions in the margins of my texts. Sometimes, it’s easier for me to keep writing definitions than it is to find the ones I’ve already written many times.
Does this word offer a clue to help me continue working out a tricky transition in the book about Ojibwe child welfare I’m working on?
Shibboleth – (noun shib·bo·leth \ˈshi-bə-ləth also -ˌleth\) – an old idea, opinion, or saying that is commonly believed and repeated but that may be seen as old-fashioned or untrue; a word of a way of speaking or behaving which shows that a person belongs to a particular group. (Merriam-Webster.com)
A shibboleth, in its original signification and in a meaning it still bears today, is a word or custom whose variations in pronunciation or style can be used to differentiate members of ingroups from those of outgroups. Within the mindset of the ingroup, a connotation or value judgment of correct/incorrect or superior/inferior can be ascribed to the two variants.
In contemporary usage the word has acquired an extended meaning which is often cited first (and sometimes even exclusively) in shorter dictionaries, namely, an old belief or saying which is cited repetitively or unreflectively but which is, or may be, fallacious or untrue… (Wikipedia)
What does the word shibboleth imply about the liminal space between the Ojibwe and Euro-American settler cultures I studied years ago and continue to ponder today? Certainly the past continues to influence the present.
“I understand what you want . . . from the few words I have heard you speak,” said Chief Flat Mouth of the Pillager Band of Ojibwe to a group of U.S. government officials in 1855. “You want land.” (National Endowment for the Humanities)
Photo: President Andrew Johnson and American Indian delegates – 1867. (NEH)
I honestly don’t know what to make of a dream where the word shimmered in the air just as I awoke. The notes I scribbled in the margins of my cryptogram puzzle book don’t seem to offer much.
All people create separate worlds in the past where they can revisit. [I think this is what I was doing in my dream.] Some get caught there, and others are stuck halfway in-between. The worlds we create can tell us a lot about who we are and the things that matter most to us.
I couldn’t even remember how to spell shibboleth when I awoke, so I gave it my best guess and Google did the rest. Honestly, this is something I will need to think about more. In the meantime, the final cryptogram puzzle I solved before going to sleep last night reminds me of one of the pressing tasks I need to do today.
HDF DPMTFIH HDLVB LI YMLHLVB P MFXKRRFVTPHLKV ZKM IKRFKVF YF UVKY. (ULN DCSSPMT)
I welcome any thoughts about the meaning of shibboleth, or solutions for the cryptogram puzzle. (I do remember one of my virtual friends hates word puzzles. I hope he doesn’t feel obligated to comment, although I do welcome his thoughts about the meaning of shibboleth. 🙂 )
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