shibboleet [and other verbal handshakes]

Written by Dan King

Christ-follower. husband. father. author of the unlikely missionary: from pew-warmer to poverty-fighter. co-author of activist faith: from him and for him. director of family ministry at st. edward's episcopal church. president of fistbump media, llc.

October 15, 2010

There’s a little buzz going around regarding this unusual word… shibboleet.

It was used in a web-comic about tech support providing the caller a way to circumvent the usual process and get to someone special. Sort of a secret password deal.

The word seems to be a neologism of two terms.

The first being the Hebrew word shibboleth, which is defined as…

…any distinguishing practice that is indicative of one’s social or regional origin. It usually refers to features of language, and particularly to a word whose pronunciation identifies its speaker as being a member or not a member of a particular group.

The other term being leet, which “is a term used by computer users and gamers everywhere to describe their awesome computing and gaming skills.”

Essentially, it’s a term that represents a sort of computer-geek secret verbal handshake. It’s a way of saying, “I’m in the club.” In the Hebrew being able to pronounce it correctly meant that you are part of the group, but those who could not were excluded from the group.

That got me thinking about the church…

We tend to use a LOT of secret-club language. You usually don’t have to talk to someone very long to find out if they have “Jesus in their heart” or if “God is growning [them]”. Or maybe you know someone who’s “planting seeds of faith”.

What other secret-club terms do we tend to use?

Is it right, or should we talk more like ‘real’ people?


  1. Kristabelieves

    Interesting observation. I have often thought that I need to be careful about the terminology that I use with non-believers. I have no problem using “church lingo” at church, but I tend to shy away from it in public non-church settings.

    I have seen others talk in their “church-lingo” in public settings, and I could see how they immediately lost report with those they were speaking with. You never know what someone’s background is, and I don’t like to shut the door to a potential relationship just because of the words I choose to use. There are others way to let the world know you are a Bible believer, than by the words we use. I would much rather LOVE someone until they ask why.

    • @bibledude

      I love this statement… “I would much rather LOVE someone until they ask why.” While it could be important to actually have some ‘club lingo’, it’s definitely something that we need to be careful how we use. It’s important that we don’t alienate anyone by how we talk….

  2. Megan Willome

    I didn’t realize how much God-speak I used until I sort of/accidentally/on purpose dropped out of church. Now, that kind of talk sounds like passwords in a club I used to belong to.

    • @bibledude

      I’ve had workplace break room conversations with other Christians that have sometime left me wondering what non-Christian think of what we were saying… or if they even understood half of it. I’m definitely trying to make a more intentional effort to talk like a normal person unless I am in exclusively Christian company (like a church small group or something like that).

      Thanks for jumping in and sharing your perspective! It’s crazy to think how easily we slip into those speech habits without even knowing it… and how noticeable it is when you aren’t in it regularly anymore!

  3. Krista Burdine

    Love it! Love that you got picked up and quoted in a tech blog, too! Too funny.

    Your serious question is an excellent one. We do tend to have a church lingo, which makes it so difficult for people to come into the circle.

    I have tried so hard to just remove “christianese” from my language. to rename “small group” to “book discussion group” and talk about the sunday morning “event” instead of “worship service”. little things, but when I practice them all the time, then I naturally use those less “lingo” terms when talking with my atheist neighbor/friend (and the general public).

    • @bibledude

      I finally got serious about God and church in my late-twenties, and at times I felt like I had to learn the lingo in order to be ‘holy’. But the more I learn about God and who He is, the more I realize that’s just nonsense. The more I think about it, the more bothered I am about people new to the church struggling to keep up with the terminology rather than simply focusing on God.

      I like your approach Krista! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! You rock dude!


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shibboleet [and other verbal handshakes]

by Dan King time to read: 1 min