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Is there an English idiom that expresses the sentiment that a singer articulates the lyrics so badly that you'd better buy the text in the leaflet?

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I follow you up to "buy the text in the leaflet". What leaflet? Where would this be bought? –  Mitch Aug 29 '12 at 0:14
    
By 'leaflet' do you possibly mean the libretto - the "book" of an opera? - or the program which is sold at performances of an opera? –  StoneyB Aug 29 '12 at 0:22
    
How about "indecipherable lyrics" or "perishing alt rock voice"? –  JLG Aug 29 '12 at 1:20
    
My friend tells the story that the opera was halfway through when they suddenly realized it was in English. –  gbarry Aug 29 '12 at 19:13
    
A libretto is very specific to an opera. In my native language, the description of such an intelligible performance refers to having to buy the text in written form. I tried to leave out these irrelevant details of the question. This question refers to something I actually want to know and use. Obviously, it can be described by "Dude, I cannot understand a single word." or what ever, but I specifically wanted to know if there exists a particular phrase. –  Phira Aug 29 '12 at 20:32

5 Answers 5

Scat - singing in which the singer substitutes improvised nonsense syllables for the words of a song (and tries to sound and phrase like a musical instrument).

Brackets mine - the important thing is "nonsense syllables", which always applies. Attempting to sound like a musical instrument (esp., any particular instrument) is peripheral/optional.

I don't think there's any special word for the fuzziness you get from, say, Enya (mainly introduced by sound engineering/mixing), or for what you get from people like John Martyn, The Cure, etc., who (I assume) are actually singing real words, but often don't articulate clearly. That sort of thing can be called mumbling, moaning, droning, warbling, wailing, trilling, ululating, etc., but I think none of those terms specify whether real words are being sung or not.

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+1 for "mumbling". –  MετάEd Aug 29 '12 at 5:36

You can use mumbling to describe inarticulate singing as well as speech.

Apologies for linking to a tabloid but it's the first thing I came across as an example:

Media reported [Amy Winehouse] was an hour late, before stumbling to the stage and mumbling through her songs

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diction is the word singers use when talking about enunciation. Someone who mumbles when singing would need to work on their diction.

I'm not aware of any particular idioms meaning exactly what you're asking for, but there is the somewhat dubious Urban Dictionary entry:

rocker's mumble: A condition common among lead singers of rock bands, characterized by an awful butchering of otherwise simple lyrics. Rocker's Mumble is partially responsible for causing people to stop caring about lyrics. This condition can be caused by use of narcotics or the singer's style quirks.

Of course nobody's diction could be worse than Dylan's!"

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Van Morrison, in his scat phase, needed a backup singer articulating the same lyrics as he was singing so that the audience could follow along. –  bib Aug 29 '12 at 0:41
    
-1 Somewhat dubious, indeed. Answer lacks verifiable facts, references, or specific expertise. –  MετάEd Aug 29 '12 at 5:37
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@ΜετάEd- 'scuse me, but diction is quite a valid word, and can be employed (in the negative) in this instance. Lacking any other known answer and not knowing OP's intended use, I offered an Urban dictionary entry as a possibility with no false pretenses. I put links to both words I offered. And as far as specific expertise, what might you be looking for in that area? Truthfully, I don't know that your -1 is deserved. –  Jim Aug 29 '12 at 5:48
    
Opera News might disagree with your last sentence: 'soprano Susan Gritton sounds indifferent, and her notoriously bad diction (it's impossible even to make out "alleluia") sounds comical when answered by the clear sounds of the other soloists.' –  StoneyB Aug 29 '12 at 22:21

I'd go for garbling the lyrics.

Alternatively, if you're a fan of Weird Al Yankovic, you could call it bargling. (from his song Smells like Nirvana, "It's hard to bargle naudle zouss / with all these marbles in my mouth.")

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As you see from the variety of answers, there are many terms for poor singing diction, but each tends to be restricted to a specific genre of music.

A more general phrase, but not restricted to singers, is He (or she) speaks/talks/sings like he has a mouth full of XXX; compare Hellion's answer. This has been around for a long time, having been famously used of the young (and middle-aged and old) Marlon Brando, with toilet paper for XXX.

XXX may be practically anything. In my youth mashed potatoes was common; today the favorite (vulgarities aside) seems to be marbles—a little ironic if you know the story of Demosthenes teaching himself to speak effectively by practicing with pebbles in his mouth.

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