Friday, 29 February 2008

garble and discriminate

Like zenith, garble has a complicated history, from Latin to Arabic then back to Latin. Its first meaning in English is "sift, take the pick of", then it came to mean "make selection from (unfairly or with a bias)". Its modern meaning, at least for me, is "mix up or distort to such an extent as to make misleading or incomprehensible". It's from Anglo-Latin garbellāre "to sift", from Arabic ġarbala "to select", from غربال ġirbāl "sieve". And ġirbāl was perhaps borrowed from Latin crībellum, a diminuitive of crībum "sieve". The PIE root is *krei- "sieve, discriminate, distinguish".

The suffixed form *krei-men- became Latin crīmen "judgment, crime". This combined with dis- "apart" to form discrīmen "distinction" and discrīmināre, borrowed into English as discriminate.

From "discriminate, distinguish" to "garble". That's quite the semantic spread.


mahendra singh said...

What do the words "anglo-latin" mean? Is this like Church Latin?

Very much enjoying your steady production of etymological cookie crumbs, can't wait till you finally lure us into the Witches' Gingerbread House!

goofy said...

Anglo-Latin was the variety of Latin used in England in the Middle Ages.

Stuart Douglas said...

I kike that one a lot. Many of these etymlogies seem odd, with peculiar (to modern ears) words turning out to be related to one another. But going from sieve to sift to select to mixup seems a perfectly reasonable evolution for once :)

Lameen Souag said...

The step from cribellum to ghirbaal looks odd - Latin c normally becomes k or q in Arabic, not gh. One wonders whether it might have been mediated through Berber, where Latin c more often corresponds to gh. Do you have any info on the details?

goofy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
goofy said...

hmm... the AHD says:

Arabic gharbala, to select, from ghirbaal, sieve, from Late Latin cribellum

the Online Etymology Dictionary says:

Arabic gharbala "to sift and select spices," related to kirbal "sieve," perhaps from L. cribellum

I should check the OED.

goofy said...

The OED:

Arab. gharbala sift, select, rel. to ghirbāl sieve, perh. - Late L. crībellāre, f. crībellum, dim. of crībum sieve.

Lameen Souag said...

Thanks. The Online Etymology Dictionary's kirbaal seems to be wrong - there is such a word, but according to Sakhr's online dictionary, it means a stick used in winding cotton ( I'm not sure how old the verb gharbala is in Arabic - the oldest example I could find quickly is in Musnad Ahmad (author d. 855) - "there will come upon the people an age in which they will be sifted thoroughly..." (