Wednesday, August 12, 2009


The word garnish came up on this week’s program, principally because of an ad that speaks of ways of protecting yourself when someone tries to garnish your wages. A couple of listeners thought that the proper way to phrase it is to garnishee wages. Since the 16th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, one of the meanings of garnish is “to serve notice on (a person), for the purpose of attaching money belonging to a debtor.” In the 1890s, the verb to garnishee entered the fray. According to a law dictionary, a garnishee is the person ordered not to release funds until permitted by a court order.

At any rate, the word comes from an old form that meant to ward off, to prevent, to protect, to prepare. In the 14th century, it was used as a military term meaning to supply with men, arms, and provisions. In a civilian sense, it also meant to decorate or embellish. In that sense, the King James Version later employed it in Matthew XII, 44. In the 17th century, the word was also applied to decorating a dish for the table.

From listener Jim Dalyrimple:

Both garnishee and garnish are listed in dictionaries as verbs. The most common assets subject to garnishment are bank deposits and wages. After a plaintiff gets a money judgment in a law suit, the next step is try to collect. One way is to send out inquiries to every bank in town ordering the banks to report back to the court as to whether or not the judgment debtor has any money on deposit. The bank is required by law to file a Garnishee Disclosure to the court. If funds are disclosed, the plaintiff asks the court to issue a Writ of Garnishment ordering the bank to turn over the funds to the court. The bank is called the garnishee. Works the same way with wages. Federal law limits garnishment of wages to 25%. In simple terms, a garnishment is a warning to a bank or employer; "Don't you dare give anybody a darn thing until the court tells you to!"

SIDEBAR: wage garnishment

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