What it means

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By Hillevi Gustafson

Shibboleth. The word most St Andrews students have undoubtedly pondered as they sign in to their university e-mail. It’s right there, seemingly randomly attached to the login page. And now, here it is again. Absurdly attributed as the title of a newspaper column. Do you know what it means?

There are a few different definitions for the word, all meaning pretty much the same. To keep it simple: a shibboleth is a catchphrase, word, or practice that identifies a particular group, and is often regarded as meaningless, unimportant or misguided by outsiders. Starting to see how this might relate to life here in the so-called Bubble?

As students at this university we are constantly surrounded by shibboleths. Ever tried giving directions for something that isn’t on Market Street without relating the location to that of KFB? Ever gossiped about last night’s academic incest witnessed at the Bop? What about the May Dip? Now that is something that outsiders consider “misguided” to say the least.

Identifying yourself as a student at the University of St Andrews is a shibboleth in and of itself. No outsider can fully understand just how insane this place is. I suppose it is the same with any other university – the students develop their own subculture to whichever place they are in. The reason it’s perhaps more pronounced here is because outside of student life, there really isn’t a whole lot going on in this town. Go to university in Glasgow or London, and you’ve also got city life to contend with.

Surrounded as we are by all these customs and traditions it can sometimes be hard to find a balance between this world and the one everyone else is living in. It is necessary, and probably healthy, to get out of here every so often. And I don’t just mean for a trip to Fat Sam’s. Going home, or visiting somone who doesn’t find it completely normal to date your brother or run into the North Sea at dawn is essential to maintaining sanity.

All these shibboleths may be overpowering in their multitude, but in the end they are what makes life here intersting. Future students are desperate to get iniated into the secret code of conduct so unique to this school. Admit it, we were all excited to get adopted, experience Raisin weekend and wear our own red gowns around town.

The great part of a shibboleth is that not everyone gets it. There is a degree of exclusivity associated with it. You are a part of something. While an outsider may look at this, or any, issue of Viewpoint and find the articles interesting, that person would probably not fully understand it all.

No matter how far you go, or where in the world you end up, you’ll still be a St Andrews student. Run into someone in Bali, clad in their red gown and although you may not know them, you will have these things, these customs, these shibboleths in common. It’s a rather comforting thought.

Maybe the next time you log in to your e-mail and see shibboleth glaring back at you, you’ll recognize its relevence to life here in our crazy bubble.

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