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From Middle English garnischen, from Old French garniss-, stem of certain forms of the verb garnir, guarnir, warnir (to provide, furnish, avert, defend, warn, fortify, garnish), from a conflation of Old Frankish *warnjan (to refuse, deny) and *warnōn (warn, protect, prepare, beware, guard oneself), from Proto-Germanic *warnijaną (to worry, care, heed) and Proto-Germanic *warnōną (to warn); both from Proto-Indo-European *wer- (to defend, protect, cover). Cognate with Old English wiernan (to withhold, be sparing of, deny, refuse, reject, decline, forbid, prevent from, avert) and warnian (to warn, caution, take warning, take heed, guard oneself against, deny). More at warn.



garnish (third-person singular simple present garnishes, present participle garnishing, simple past and past participle garnished)

  1. To decorate with ornaments; to adorn; to embellish.
    • 1590, Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, London: William Ponsonbie, Book 2, Canto 5, p. 253,[2]
      And all within with flowres was garnished,
    • 1710, Joseph Addison, The Tatler, No. 163, 25 April, 1710, Glasgow: Robert Urie, 1754, p. 165,[3]
      [] as that admirable writer has the best and worst verses of any among our English poets, Ned Softly has got all the bad ones without book, which he repeats upon occasion, to shew his reading, and garnish his conversation.
    • 1848, Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Chapter 14,[4]
      [] the whip [] was garnished with a massive horse’s head of plated metal.
  2. (cooking) To ornament with something placed around it.
    a dish garnished with parsley
  3. (archaic) To furnish; to supply.
    • 1611, King James Version of the Bible, Job 26.13,[5]
      By his spirit he hath garnished the heavens; his hand hath formed the crooked serpent.
    • 1861, George Eliot, Silas Marner, Part One, Chapter 3,[6]
      [] the good-humoured, affectionate-hearted Godfrey Cass was fast becoming a bitter man, visited by cruel wishes, that seemed to enter, and depart, and enter again, like demons who had found in him a ready-garnished home.
  4. (slang, archaic) To fit with fetters; to fetter.[1]
  5. (law) To warn by garnishment; to give notice to.
  6. (law) To have (money) set aside by court order (particularly for the payment of alleged debts); to garnishee.
    • 1966, Langston Hughes, “The Twenties: Harlem and Its Negritude” in Christopher C. De Santis (ed.), The Collected Works of Langston Hughes, Volume 9, p. 473,
      When the editorial board of Fire met again, we did not plan a new issue, but emptied our pockets to help poor Thurman whose wages were being garnished weekly because he had signed for the printer’s bills.

Derived terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.


garnish (plural garnishes)

  1. A set of dishes, often pewter, containing a dozen pieces of several types.
  2. Pewter vessels in general.
    • 1882, James Edwin Thorold Rogers, A History of Agriculture and Prices in England, volume 4, page 478:
      The accounts of collegiate and monastic institutions give abundant entries of the price of pewter vessels, called also garnish.
  3. Something added for embellishment.
    Synonyms: decoration, ornament
    • 1718, Matthew Prior, Alma: or, The Progress of the Mind, Canto 1, in Poems on Several Occasions, London: Jacob Tonson, p. 333,[7]
      First Poets, all the World agrees,
      Write half to profit, half to please
      Matter and figure They produce;
      For Garnish This, and That for Use;
    • 1872, George Eliot, Middlemarch, Book I, Chapter 12,[8]
      This hard-headed old Overreach approved of the sentimental song, as the suitable garnish for girls, and also as fundamentally fine, sentiment being the right thing for a song.
    • 1972, William Trevor, “The Grass Widows” in The Collected Stories, New York: Viking, 1992, p. 228,[9]
      There had been a semblance of chivalry in the attitude from which, at the beginning of their marriage, he had briefly regarded her; but forty-seven years had efficiently disposed of that garnish of politeness.
  4. Clothes; garments, especially when showy or decorative.
  5. (cooking) Something set round or upon a dish as an embellishment.
  6. (slang, obsolete) Fetters.
  7. (slang, historical) A fee; specifically, in English jails, formerly an unauthorized fee demanded from a newcomer by the older prisoners.
    • 1699, B. E., A New Dictionary of the Canting Crew, London: W. Hawes et al.,[11]
      Garnish money, what is customarily spent among the Prisoners at first coming in.
    • 1751, Henry Fielding, Amelia, London: C. Cooke, 1793, Volume I, Chapter 3, p. 13,[12]
      This person then [] acquainted him that it was the custom of the place for every prisoner, upon his first arrival there, to give something to the former prisoners to make them drink. This, he said, was what they called garnish; and concluded with advising his new customer to draw his purse upon the present occasion.
  8. (US, slang) Cash.[2]


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.


  1. ^ Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language, 1755.[1]
  2. ^ Tom Dalzell (ed.), The Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang and Unconventional English, New York: Routledge, 8th edition, 1984.

Further reading[edit]