Friday, September 01, 2006

Garbled


Speech can be garbled—distorted, scrambled, difficult to understand—if you use a cheap cell phone. And facts can be garbled if data are twisted or used in a misleading way.
Comprehensive research and a grasp of reality are our best friends.

But the word started out in a much more mundane way. Following connections through Anglo-Norman (garbeler), Arabic (girbal), and Latin (cribrum), we discover that the connecting idea is a sieve—that meshed or perforated device used for sifting, straining, and purifying. In the old days, when you garbled something—especially precious spices—you were removing debris and impurities, making the spices enticing to use and to sell.
By the 17th century, it had come to mean confused or distorted speech or ideas.


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