Word Confusion: Garnish versus Garnishee

Posted June 25, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

I’ve done it again. Got all up in my own self-righteous belief that garnish and garnishee are two different critters. Turns out that in legal terms, you can garnish or garnishee, ya just can’t garnishee up that garnish order with flourishes and pretty scribbles. That’d be strictly garnish on a garnishee order.

Food, on the other hand, is strictly for garnishing.

I gotta say, I do interpret garnish as strictly prettifying. When I read that his wages were garnished, I get to wondering what they were garnished with…a white paper frill? Or maybe with parsley… Now, on the other hand, if a couple of es got added in there to make it more of a his wages were garnisheed, I get to wondering how much is being taken out of the poor bastard’s pay.

And yes, part of me is looking for justification in this post for my own perceptions, aaand writers do need to take into account the most common word choices for word confusions like garnish and garnishee. Admittedly, it’s not a word choice one finds in most stories, which means that most of your reading audience won’t know the difference either, which makes it your choice.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end. Consider sharing this Word Confusion with friends by tweeting it.

Garnish Garnishee
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Dictionary.com: garnish

Tiny lobster petit fours arranged on alternate squares of a cucumber mat

Image courtesy of Brides.com and Peter Callahan Catering

I saw this gorgeous “mat” used as part of the presentation, the garnish, for this wedding menu, and could not resist sharing it.


  • If a debtor fails to pay debt to his creditor, the creditor may apply to the court for issuing a garnishee order on the banker of his debtor.
  • This is issued under Order 21, Rule 46 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.
Part of Grammar:
Noun 1; Verb, transitive 1, 2

Noun plural & third person present verb: garnishes
Past tense or past participle: garnished
Gerund or Present participle: garnishing

Noun; Verb, transitive

Noun plural & third person present verb: garnishees
Past tense or past participle: garnisheed
Gerund or Present participle: garnisheeing

A decoration or embellishment for something, especially food

[Obsolete] A fee, especially one formerly extorted from new prisoners by inmates of English jails or by the jailer

Verb, transitive:
Decorate or embellish something, especially food 2

[Law] Serve with a garnishment

  • Seize money, especially part of a person’s salary to settle a debt or claim
A third party who is served notice by a court to surrender money in settlement of a debt or claim

[As a modifier] A garnishee order

Verb, transitive:
[Law] Serve with a garnishment

  • Seize money, especially part of a person’s salary to settle a debt or claim
I do like using edible flowers as a garnish.

The amount and style of garnish applied to clothing has varied throughout history.

I do like a well-garnished joint of roast beef on a hot dish.

Verb, transitive:
This salad is garnished with an orange slice.

The IRS garnished his earnings.

During the Regency period, men wore knee breeches and jackets that were highly garnished for formal events.

We need to serve this garnishee order.

Oh yay! The judge issued a garnishee order.

The payroll department handles garnishee orders.

Verb, transitive:
The IRS garnisheed his earnings.

My ex is gonna get his wages garnisheed.

Adjective: garnishable
Noun: garnisher, garnishment
Verb, transitive: overgarnish, regarnish, undergarnish
Noun: garnishment
History of the Word:
1 Middle English in the sense of equip or arm from the Old French garnir and probably of Germanic origin.

2 Dates from the late 17th century

Middle English as a derivative word from garnish and from the Germanic warnjan meaning to guard through the Old French garnir

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

Return to top