Garble – mixed messages or spice sorting?


This week’s word is garble. Thanks to a distinct lack of sleep last weekend (running a Beaver Scout camp for 24 children aged 6-8 who don’t want to sleep and rise with the dawn chorus will do that to you) and various minor ailments, I have spent most of today garbling my sentences.

Garble’s modern meaning is causing a word, name or message to be unclear on confusing. It sounds a little like your tongue has gobbled itself.

However, garble hasn’t always had this negative meaning. Garbling was once a verb about sorting items. Spices, once so valuable that wars were started over them, were garbled, or graded, to remove impurities. So garbling originally took the nonsense out and improved something, which is quite the reverse of its meaning now.

Garble dates from the 1500s and originates with cribellum (sieve) in Latin, gharbala in Arabic, via garbellare (sift) in Old Italian, and garbelen in Middle English.

Perhaps the next time I garble my sentence I shall advise my listeners to garble it until the meaning becomes clear. That should confuse them thoroughly.

Until next time happy reading, writing and wordfooling,


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