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23 Sep 2014

500 Words You Should Know

Just done my first radio interview for this (see books page). Radio Wales, with the lovely (and possibly callipygous) Alan Thompson. Such a joy to be interviewed by someone who has read and apparently enjoyed the book – he even quoted an entry that wasn’t on the press release. Thank you, Alan.

A nice thought occurred to me as I was preparing for the interview. The word shibboleth comes from an ancient Biblical language and became important when one tribe had defeated another in battle and wanted to identify the runaway enemies. The defeated tribe, the Ephraimites, couldn’t pronounce the sh sound, so getting them to say shibboleth (which meant an ear of corn) was a dead giveaway – it came out sibboleth.

You can find a version of that story in the Bible and/or any decent-sized dictionary. The nice thought was that, if there were a battle between England and Wales and the Welsh won, they could root out the English survivors by asking them to say Llanelli, or Dolgellau, or almost any other place name that wasn’t Port Talbot or Newport. Most of the English would give themselves away the moment they opened their mouths. Let’s think of that as a warning not to wage war against people whose language we don’t speak.

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