Point #65: The Piercing Password, Daith

 Jef Saunder headshotBy Jef Saunders
Rockstar Body Piercing

Few people are aware of what a shibboleth is, but they are familiar with one very famous one: Lollapalooza. Lollapalooza, made famous by the Perry Farrell’s traveling music fest, is familiar to us. It is relevant on several levels to the piercing industry, as Lollapalooza was, for many people across the United States, their first exposure to body piercing. Whether it be through traveling piercers like Eve Zamora, Gadhi, Cricket Keene, Allen Falkner, and Ken Coyote, or the modified Jim Rose Circus Sideshow: the Lollapalooza tour was essential to early 1990’s body piercing culture.

But the Lollapalooza I am referring to is the shibboleth “lollapalooza.” A shibboleth is a word that one culture can pronounce easily, but another cannot. U.S. Forces in the Pacific theater of World War II would hear other soldiers walking in the woods, or in the dark. If they were unsure as to whether they were American or not, they would yell, “Say Lollapalooza!” An American can say this word easily. Japanese soldiers could not. This shibboleth protected American soldiers from ambush, and the mispronunciation potentially cost Japanese soldiers their lives. [1]

The word shibboleth, and the first recorded concept of this kind of password, is from the bible. Specifically Judges 12:5-6 (King James version quoted) “And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay; Then said they unto him, Say now shibboleth: and he said sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.” [2]

The two previous mentions of a shibboleth are primarily a racial/cultural mispronunciation, but if we get to the heart of the matter, a shibboleth is a password into a culture. Arguably, body piercing has several of these: “plugs” versus “gauges,” “philtrum” versus some sort of “bite.” Some piercers still mispronounce “labret!” (For the record, it’s a hard “T” sound). But none is as nonsensical as the pronunciation of the daith piercing (doth, like “goth” with a “d”). The uninformed cannot wrap their heads around that pronunciation, and this makes it a shibboleth.

I had heard several versions of how the daith received its name, but I decided to go straight to the

Example of a daith piercing, by Jef Saunders.

Example of a daith piercing, by Ken Coyote.

source.  I called Erik Dakota, the first person to do the daith, and asked him how his client came up with the name.  Erik explained to me that he had a wonderful, intelligent and creative client named Theresa, who was “a good Catholic girl” (which hopefully dispels some of the inaccurate versions of the story).  She asked Erik if he could perform a unique piercing, what we now call the daith.  Erik assessed her anatomy.  Yes indeed; her tissue could support the piercing, but the cartilage was too rigid to put a straight needle through.  Erik had lots of experience curving needles to perform another piercing he originated, the rook, so he curved the needle, performed the piercing, and asked Theresa to name it.  Theresa had been teaching herself Hebrew, and decided it took quite a bit of intelligence to perform this piercing.  She elected to name her new piercing the “daith,” which she said was the Hebrew word for intelligence. The name, pronunciation, and spelling stuck.

I’ve had a bit of trouble confirming this spelling and/or the meaning for the word “daith.”  Internet searches and talks with friends who speak Hebrew have pointed me toward the word daath, or da’at, or da’as, meaning knowledge. [3] (For example, someone who is knowledgeable in Jewish law is “da’as torah.”)  I have also found reference to “daath” on the Tree of Life on Kabbalistic websites. [4] The spelling “daith” remains elusive to me.

I think it is important to note that neither Erik Dakota nor his client Theresa had any intention of this piercing having spiritual overtones; it was simply a good name that fit a piercing that had to be performed by a knowledgeable, intelligent piercer.

I have heard several piercers suggest we change the spelling to “daath” or just make it as easy as possible for our clients, and spell it “doth.”  Our industry seems to get particularly bothered by clients and piercers mispronouncing terms.  I am of a slightly different opinion.

We have been given a gift, in this unique spelling and counterintuitive pronunciation. I say: Let’s keep this our password. One of the joys of my job is meeting other informed, active piercers, and the rarer, but much appreciated, educated client. To hear “daith” pronounced correctly is music to my ears.  Only someone knowledgeable about our culture (at least a little) will pronounce “daith” correctly, and this uniquely confirms Theresa’s initial intention.  It is a nod of respect to Erik and his client.  Daith is our shibboleth; it is our pass into our culture, and we are well served to preserve it.


1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shibboleth
2 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Judges+12%3A5-6&version=KJV
3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Da’at
4 http://www.mirach.org.uk/basic/daath.html


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  1. Hey Jef,

    thanks for the insight into the daith origin. The Loolapalooza part was also unknown to me before 🙂 Boy if they had a japanesse spy that knew how to say it 😀

  2. Thank you for the interesting article. I just got daith piercings in each ear yesterday. I was so proud of myself because I pronounced it “doth.” Then the piercer repeated it back to me as “day-th.” Then I felt silly, so I’ve been looking for confirmation of the correct pronunciation, whichever it might be. Thanks for the thoughtful explanation.

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