1

The word "garnishee" can be either a noun or a verb.

garnishee:

NOUN

A third party who is served notice by a court to surrender money in settlement of a debt or claim:
[AS MODIFIER]: a garnishee order

VERB (garnishees, garnisheeing, garnisheed)

another term for garnish (sense 2 of the verb).

Example sentences

  • 'Starting in August 2001, any extra monies received from the federal government are being garnisheed by the Alberta government if you receive Supports for Independence.'
  • 'Child support by the fathers would be mandated by the courts, and if they refused, their wages would be garnisheed or their assets could be seized to pay child support.'

(Oxford Dictionaries)

If I take money out of Bob's paycheck every month, I am garnisheeing his wages, and he is the garnishee. The "-ee" suffix normally indicates the person who receives an action, so the noun usage makes sense. But what is the etymology of the goofy-looking verb?

3
  • 5
    Why would anyone use garnisheeing when garnishing means the same thing? Aug 10, 2016 at 23:52
  • 2
    @curiousdannii: Good question. Maybe "to garnish" is a back-formation.
    – user16723
    Aug 10, 2016 at 23:52
  • I edited to add a dictionary quotation that may make it easier for people to understand which word this question is asking about. My guess would be that "garnishee" the verb is derived from the noun, which seems to be used a lot in legal contexts. I can't think of any analogous examples, though. Other verbs that end in -ee are referee, puree, fricassee.
    – herisson
    Aug 11, 2016 at 1:26

1 Answer 1

3

It's hard to settle the question definitively, but the OED gives us some clues. The verb to garnish comes to us circa the 1400s from the Old French garnir, which had the connotation of making preparations and which gave rise to the meanings of furnishing, equipping, and warning. All of the equipage meanings became obsolete with the exception of furnishing adornment for a dish of food. (Think parsley.) In the 1500s, the law adopted the warning usage to mean the notification of debtors that their property would be forfeit to their creditors to satisfy obligations. Note that this was not the taking, but the fair warning of imminent seizure.

Once the property was removed from such debtors, they became garnishees, and the the noun became attributive in such usages as "garnishee issue, order, proceedings, summons". It's a short hop from the phrase "hand down a garnishee order to John Smith" to "garnishee John Smith". Such a use would also serve to distinguish the warning of action from the action itself.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.