• garnish •
gahr-nish • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb
Meaning: 1. To embellish or decorate something, especially food. 2. (Law) To seize money, especially part of someone's salary, to settle a debt or claim.
Notes: Today's Good Word comes with three nouns: two personal, garnisher "one who garnishes" and garnishee "one who is garnished". The third is an action noun, garnishment "the act of garnishing".
In Play: This word is most often used in referring to food: "Children, you must eat your spinach, or I will chop it up and garnish your dessert with it." However, it may be used anywhere things are used for decoration: "Maude Lynn Dresser came to the soiree in a purple sequined dress, garnished with a fur collar and her usual junkyard of accessories."
Word History: In Middle English today's word meant "to equip for battle" from Old French garniss-, the present participle stem of garnir "provide, furnish; fortify, reinforce". French apparently borrowed their word from Frankish (Germanic) warnjan "be cautious, guard, provide for", also the source of English warn. Since Old French contained no sound corresponding to W, they used the closest sound to W, which was GU (pronounced [gw]. Later the W vanished, leaving only G. This word as traveled a long way semantically. It began its journey in Frankish as "warn, guard against", then moved on in French to "prepare, furnish, fortify". It continued with this meaning until the mid-19th century in English, but later took on the sense of "embellish, adorn", where it stands today. The legal sense of garnish departed from the sense of "warn, give notice" (to pay up). (Let's now garnish today's Good Word with a note of gratitude to Jackie Strauss for recommending it.)
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