c. 1500 of spices; by 1829 of language; from garble (v.).
early 15c., "to inspect and remove the dirt and dross from (spices)," from Anglo-French garbeler "to sift" (late 14c.) and directly from Medieval Latin, Catalan, and Italian garbellare, from Arabic gharbal "to sift," related to kirbal "sieve," which perhaps is from Late Latin cribellum, diminutive of Latin cribrum "sieve" (from PIE root *krei- "to sieve"). Apparently the word was widespread among Mediterranean traders (compare Italian garbellare, Spanish garbillare "to sift grain").
In later-medieval Europe, pepper and ginger and some other spices were always imports from the Arabic-speaking Eastern Mediterranean, and the same goes for many botanical drugs, and a few expensive colorants. The spices, drugs and colorants had variable amounts of natural chaff residuals and occasionally had unnatural added chaff. ["English Words of Arabic Ancestry"]
From late 15c. in a general sense of "sort out the finer parts" of anything, "removal of what is objectionable," then "distort for some devious purpose or to give false impression;" especially "mix up, confuse or distort language" (1680s). Related: Garbled; garbling. In Middle English garbeler (Anglo-French garbelour) meant "official who garbles spices and sometimes also other dry goods" (early 15c.); it is attested from 1690s as "one who mixes up or mutilates words or language."
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