Habits of Speech

“Then say Shibboleth,” and he (the Ephraimite) said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it.”[1]

Norfolk, Virginia is where I was born. I lived there the first eight years of my life. I’ve lived many places since then; yet, I still pronounce the name of that city as I did as a child: “NAWfuk.” Those who reign from Norfolk often recognize me as their kin of sorts when they hear me say that name. In contrasts, people from elsewhere sometimes respond mockingly. Sometimes “foreigners” won’t even say the name as if it’s crude. You might say, they wouldn’t pronounce “Norfolk” the way I do to save their life.

Jephthah (JEFF-thuh) was the heroic judge of Gilead around 1100 BC.[2] His men battled the men of Ephraim (EE-fra-ihm). The strong Ephramites disliked the Gileadites but Jephthah’s people gained the upper hand through some critical victories. Then some of the Ephraimites decided to “go over” to the Gilead side.  So, the Gileadite men devised a test. I suspect the test was necessary since people from Ephraim and Gilead likely looked alike. The test determined if one was from Gilead by their saying “Shibboleth,” difficult for Ephraimites to pronounce. Apparently, the men of Ephraim could not say the word to save their life.

“Crimes of Conversation: How Your Speech Is Sabotaging Your Career.”[3] Self-help expert Tara Mohr teaches of certain female speech habits that make women appear less competent. Mohr lists four habits that undermine a person’s best efforts to succeed: 1) Playing down your opinion with, “I’m really not an expert in this”; 2) overusing “just,” as in “I just think”; 3) “uptalk,” or turning your statements into questions: “I’m really grateful for this opportunity?”; 4) not pausing between sentences. These habits are also found in men, though, more common to women in our culture. Mohr explains that these speech habits create obstacles in job interviews. The resume can be exceptional, the candidate is prepared, yet, they don’t get the job. The decision seems to be based on the way the candidate sounds. It could be said that by speech habits a person can’t get a job to save their life.

We Christians have certain speech habits too. For instance, we like to say “Amen” when experiencing something good. At the end of a beautiful hymn in worship, rather than clap hands, we may say, “Amen!” Upon someone treating us kindly we may say, “Bless you!” In some settings we may simply speak softly and slowly. We Christians can be identified by speech habits, like we’re all from the same hometown, on the same side, with great confidence. Why? Christ did save our life.



[1] Judges 12:6 (ESV)

[2] Holman Bible Dictionary, Jephthah

[3] http://www.everydayhealth.com/womens-health/crimes-of-conversation-how-your-speech-is-sabotaging-your-career.aspx?xid=aol_eh-gen_2_20120423_&aolcat=HLT&icid=maing-grid7%7Chp-desktop%7Cdl2%7Csec1_lnk3%26pLid%3D156117

About Pastor Steve

Pastor Steve Hodges is an ordained minister, pastoring a church in SW Pennsylvania.
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