: lacking orderly continuity

The word garbled has appeared in 35 articles on NYTimes.com in the past year, including on Jan. 28 in “Letter of Recommendation: Lip Reading” by Jake Nevins:

The name is itself a misnomer, since lips aren’t read in any conventional sense of the word. The best lip readers are said to pick up only 30 to 45 percent of words as there are fewer visemes, or visually distinct units of sound, than there are phonemes, their auditory correlates (meaning the letters B and P, like K and G, sound different but look the same on someone’s lips). It is a necessarily imprecise science, a process by which the brain, with all its complex, rapid-fire circuitry, translates to one sense that which was meant for another.

In that way, lip reading is more like watching an orchestra — the coordination between the mouth, jaw, eyes, nose and throat resembling the interplay of the various instruments, culminating in the achievement of sense and, hopefully, legibility. Without a visual component, words, especially those heavy in consonants, can sound like one garbled mass to me: “Q-tips, please” as “Poughkeepsie,” misheard when I embarked on a trip to Duane Reade for a friend.


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