• To alter data, especially that being sent, in a manner which renders it unintelligible or otherwise difficult to understand. Such alterations may be unintentional, as in a bad connection, or intentional, as in scrambling.

Media Studies

  • noun the act of distorting a message, piece of information or signal so that it is misleading or unintelligible
  • noun a jumbled or distorted message, piece of information or signal that is confusing to listen to

Origin & History of “garble”

Garble used not to have its present-day negative connotations. It originally meant simply ‘cleanse, sift, cull’: ‘(At Alexandria) all sorts of spices be garbled after the bargain is made’, Richard Hakluyt, Voyages 1599. Gradually, though, ‘taking out the worst’ and ‘selecting the best’ passed into ‘making an unfair selection’, ‘distorting by leaving things out’ and eventually simply ‘distorting meaning’. The word itself has a convoluted pre-English history: English got it from Italian garbellare, which in turn came from Arabic gharbala ‘sift, select’, a term probably widespread in the commercial linguae francae of the Mediterranean seaboard in medieval and Renaissance times. this verb was a derivative of the Arabic noun ghirbāl ‘sieve’, which seems to have been based on the Latin verb crībellāre ‘seive’ – itself derived from crībellum, a diminutive form of crībum ‘seive’, which was related to Latin cernere ‘sift’ (source of English discern and discrete).