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Horace Comes to Law School:

A law professor e-mailed me this (prompted by my Correcting Students' Usage Errors Without Making Errors of Our Own:

Over the years, I have tried to get students to use "garnishee" as a verb, as in "to garnishee an employee's wages" rather than to garnish wages. I say "to garnish wages" is to sprinkle parsley but even as I say it I think I sound pedantic. Any thoughts?

Here's what I said in response: I don't teach in the field, so my judgment might not be good here; but I've always much preferred "garnish." True, "garnish" is also used for food, but English speakers are quite familiar with words that have vastly different meanings; no-one really thinks even for a moment about the limbs of forest animals, for instance, when they hear about "bear arms." So I doubt that "garnish" is even distracting. And garnish certainly isn't wrong: The Oxford English Dictionary attests it to 1577 (three centuries earlier than "garnishee" as a verb), and Black's of course lists it as well.

What's more, "garnishee" strikes me as sounding too much like a noun based on the verb, much as "employee" or "mortgagee." At first, that's all I thought it was; some years ago, I learned that it is indeed used as a verb, but it still sounds unpleasant to my ears (though again I stress that this isn't my field).

But rather than just relying on my ear, let me suggest that we go with Horace, and follow "the will of custom, in whose power is the decision and right and standard of language." A Westlaw search for ((garnish garnished) +5 wages) & date(> 1/1/2000) reports 675 hits, seemingly (from looking at the first page) almost entirely genuine and not false positives. A search for ((garnishee garnisheed) +5 wages) & date(> 1/1/2000) reports 23 hits. One of those is labeled "[sic]," and 12 use "garnishee" as a noun and not a verb (e.g., "orders the garnishee to withhold attachable wages"). So it looks like there are only 11 hits (one condemnatory, because of the "sic") for "garnishee" as a verb, as compared to 675 for "garnish."

That, I think, strongly counsels against the "garnishee" usage. Some people, such as the "sic"ing court (the Second Circuit), might think "garnishee" is wrong. And others who understand and accept the usage would still likely be distracted.

So it seems to me that students are better off learning to use the familiar and broadly accepted "garnish," notwithstanding the possible (but in my view unlikely) association this may briefly create in the reader's mind with parsley, rather than the much rarer "garnishee."

I'm pleased to report that my correspondent e-mailed me back to say that this argument "convinced [him] to go back to garnish as a verb." What do you think?

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Horace Comes to Law School:
  2. Horace and Google:
Patent Lawyer:
no-one really thinks even for a moment about the limbs of forest animals, for instance, when they hear about “bear arms.”

Well, no one except comedians/comedy writers.
6.22.2009 11:09am
Just Dropping By (mail):
I'd never heard "garnishee" used as a verb before. I was only familiar with its noun form -- one who has been subjected to garnishment. And that seems to be the exclusive way the laws and rules of civil procedure in Colorado use the terms. (E.g., C.R.C.P. 103 § 4(c): "Under such writ of garnishment, the judgment creditor may garnish personal property of any description owned by, or owed to, such judgment debtor and in possession or control of the garnishee.")
6.22.2009 11:09am
corneille1640 (mail):
In the case of garnish/garnishee, I agree with Eugene.

However, in a lot of situations, as the perennial issue of whether or not to avoid split infinitives, I think it's probably better to err on the side of siding with the non-split infinitive pedants. The non-pedants probably don't care enough to be offended whereas the pedants probably care too much.
6.22.2009 11:25am
[insert here] delenda est:
I would normally insist on the pendantic but correct usage (thus, hopefully, keeping alive the stream of 'correct' usage) but in this I would concur with Eugene.

Such overwhelmingly rare usages have two problems. One is that the current of usage would appear to have already carved the new meaning. The other is that is like citing Latin - either the Judge (or whatever reader you are writing for) won't understand it and will feel annoyed or condescended to, or they will understand it better than you. The latter is far worse, especially if it is a Court of Criminal Appeals Judge who responds to your Latin quote I have ever since abjured in formal use any language I was not conversant in.
6.22.2009 11:48am
rosetta's stones:

no-one really thinks even for a moment about the limbs of forest animals, for instance, when they hear about “bear arms.”


I stopped reading after arriving at this disobedient, species-ist twisting of the 2A.

We have the right to "keep". And anybody who tries to take away "bear arms" will have to pry them from their cold paws.

The "and" does mean something... duh.
.
.
.

Oh, and I'd like a nice cilantro pico de gallo garnish with my bear steak, thanks.
6.22.2009 11:49am
bobh (mail):
"I would normally insist on the pendantic but correct usage...."

This begs the question, i.e., it takes as a given that the pedantic usage is the "correct" usage. The WHOLE ISSUE is -- what is the correct usage? Prescriptivists always miss that point.
6.22.2009 12:01pm
drunkdriver:
I -hate- the sound of "garnishee," "garnish" sounds much more natural. And it's the way ordinary educated people talk.
6.22.2009 12:11pm
Mike G in Corvallis:
What’s more, “garnishee” strikes me as sounding too much like a noun based on the verb, much as “employee” or “mortgagee.”

Exactly. And if he wants to avoid confusion, why substitute a more confusing word?
6.22.2009 12:31pm
David Hardy (mail) (www):
Haven't heard that one, but have heard, dozens of times, "the manufacturer warrantees this item ,,,,"
6.22.2009 12:36pm
PubliusFL:
Once "garnishee" becomes established as the verb form, judgment creditors will go to court seeking to garnishee the wages of their judgment debtors. Upon being granted a writ of garnisheement, the creditor is known as a garnisheeor, and the debtor as a garnisheeee.
6.22.2009 12:47pm
rosetta's stones:

...“garnishee” strikes me as sounding too much like a noun based on the verb...



I am efforting to understand why anybody would be opposed to this construction.
6.22.2009 12:48pm
Fub:
What’s more, “garnishee” strikes me as sounding too much like a noun based on the verb, much as “employee” or “mortgagee.”
A quick google search will reveal that "garnishee" is commonly used as both a noun and as a transitive verb.

I grew up hearing "garnishee" used as both, but that may be regional. Sometimes the verb was pronounced "garnishAY", and the noun "garnishEE".

There are many words regularly used as either noun or verb without confusion. The syntactical context usually makes the meaning clear. Usually an article "a" or "the" will make the distinction very clear for "garnishee".

Just hypothetically: "Plaintiff pines for an order to garnishee defendant's wages in payment of judgment for defendant's damage to plaintiff's pines. Plaintiff has shown that the garnishee is defendant's employer."
6.22.2009 12:56pm
Ari8 (mail):
I believe in the right to arm bears.
6.22.2009 12:57pm
MarkField (mail):

I would normally insist on the pendantic but correct usage


Irony intended?
6.22.2009 1:01pm
MM:
The first time I heard "garnishee" was in the movie Fletch, so now it makes me want to laugh. Not sure if this is reason enough to abandon it.
6.22.2009 1:04pm
Hmmm.... (mail):
I'm wondering why the will of custom begins on January 1, 2000. Shouldn't one look farther back than a decade to ascertain custom?
6.22.2009 1:05pm
ChrisIowa (mail):

no-one really thinks even for a moment about the limbs of forest animals, for instance, when they hear about “bear arms.”

Are bears four-legged or are they forearmed? If they are forearmed, is it because they were forewarned?

Maybe we should ask the President; he's from Chicago. There's lots of Bears in Chicago, but I'm certain that in Chicago they're unarmed. So bears must have four legs and no arms.

No wonder the Bears have had such a hard time finding a quarterback.
6.22.2009 1:11pm
krs:
I agree with EV on the prescriptive part, but speaking only for myself "garnish" isn't on par with "bear" in the sense of not being jarring to hear used either of 2 correct ways.

Again, speaking only for myself, "garnish" is tied to food in my head and the first thing that comes to mind is still parsley when someone says "garnish wages." It's kind of like pig latin for the people who know the code but don't ever use it--I understand but there's an extra mental step in there.
6.22.2009 1:16pm
JWB:
There's a separate-but-related issue when a statute or other authoritative text uses a weird/idiosyncratic/archaic variant spelling, like "indorsement" in the UCC or "marihuana" in some drug laws. Should a brief or judicial opinion or law review article track the authoritative text, or translate it into standard English, and if the latter sub silentio or with an explanatory footnote/parenthetical? (I suppose for a lawyer writing the brief, the right answer is "do whatever the judge would be most likely to do when writing the opinion": if you can predict that you'll neither seem too informal nor too pedantic.)
6.22.2009 1:26pm
Anonymouse Troll:
If direct verbification of a noun form is too pedantic, there are other ways to ruin a perfectly good word - think "en-garnish-ify" or "be-garnish".
6.22.2009 1:31pm
delzer:
And given the contradictory meanings of garnish (adding to a dish or taking away from someone's wages), it qualifies as a homographic homophonic autantonym.
6.22.2009 1:39pm
Anon321:
The first time I heard "garnishee" was in the movie Fletch, so now it makes me want to laugh. Not sure if this is reason enough to abandon it.

Exactly. If garnisheed wasn't already considered archaic, surely the Fletch line -- "Now, I can't have my wages garnisheed" -- rendered it the subject of derision for at least a generation. (Apologies if I have the line slightly wrong.)
6.22.2009 1:42pm
Abdul Abulbul Amir (mail):


Upon being granted a writ of garnisheement, the creditor is known as a garnisheeor, and the debtor as a garnisheeee.



Heaven forfend.
6.22.2009 1:51pm
ChrisIowa (mail):
JWB

There's a separate-but-related issue when a statute or other authoritative text uses a weird/idiosyncratic/archaic variant spelling, like "indorsement" in the UCC or "marihuana" in some drug laws.

Newspapers in the late 1800's and early 1900's used "indorsement" as the standard spelling. Beginning that word with an "e" did not happen in that time period. I'm sure it was jarring for those educated in that time period when the misspelling as "endorsement" first got by the editors.
6.22.2009 2:04pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
This discussion impresses me gar nisht.
6.22.2009 2:15pm
Finance lawyer (mail):
Might I be permitted a heretical suggestion? This being a question of legal usage, why not look at the law?

Here in New York, the CPLR uses "garnish". A "garnishee" is a person on whom a garnishment order is served.
6.22.2009 2:24pm
Jay:
"I grew up hearing "garnishee" used as both, but that may be regional. Sometimes the verb was pronounced "garnishAY", and the noun "garnishEE"."

Your childhood sounds interesting, if troubled.
6.22.2009 4:13pm
ohwilleke:
Use of "garnishee" as a verb is something I associate with paralegals, court clerks and lay people; lawyers and judges use it as a verb far less often. The useage pattern is a class distinguisher, although I have encountered lawyers and judges who use "garnishee" as a verb.

With regard to looking at the law, Colorado's court forms use "garnishee" solely as a noun, but make only limited use of "garnish" as a verb, using it only in the past tense and only rarely (e.g., "The earnings garnished are pension or retirement benefits") while perferring to use the word "garnishment" whenever possible.

Two other similar issues that I've seen discussed are:

(1) plead guilty v. pleaded guilty (AP newspaper standard prefer the latter), as past tense of "plea."

(2) Testator v. Testatrix. This gender distinction in titles was the historically correct terminology (as well as several related terms like Executor v. Executrix), but the Uniform Probate Code uses the male form as a unisex form for all of them (and abolishes "executor" entirely in favor of "personal representative.") Colorado is a UPC state, so I use the unisex form.
6.22.2009 4:22pm
PeterWimsey (mail):
As a couple of other posters have indicated, looking at your state's statutes is an easy solution; in Indiana, one garnishes the wages of a garnishee.
6.22.2009 4:53pm
neurodoc:
ohwilleke: Testator v. Testatrix. This gender distinction in titles was the historically correct terminology (as well as several related terms like Executor v. Executrix), but the Uniform Probate Code uses the male form as a unisex form for all of them (and abolishes "executor" entirely in favor of "personal representative.")
I don't much care whether the gender distinction is preserved or not with respect to someone who makes a will or someone who is appointed to carry out a will's directions and requests, but it would be a shame if dominatrix were to be replaced by a less evocative descriptor.
corneille1640: However, in a lot of situations, as the perennial issue of whether or not to avoid split infinitives, I think it's probably better to err on the side of siding with the non-split infinitive pedants.
Is a split infinitive grammatically allowable, or is it still correctly regarded as a grammatical error? I was always for avoiding the split infinitive, but sometimes the only practical alternative is remarkably awkward sounding or a very different sentence structure. Should one pause before splitting an infinitive, or can they split with unselfconsciously no matter the company they are in?
6.22.2009 4:58pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Never, ever heard of "garnishee" as a verb. And it's ugly, and its mother dresses it funny, too.
6.22.2009 6:03pm
http://volokh.com/?exclude=davidb :

Is a split infinitive grammatically allowable, or is it still correctly regarded as a grammatical error?

Sigh.
6.22.2009 6:19pm
bobh (mail):
"Is a split infinitive grammatically allowable, or is it still correctly regarded as a grammatical error?"

It was NEVER "correctly" regarded as a grammatical error, because it IS NOT AND NEVER WAS a grammatical error. Nor is ending a sentence with a preposition a grammatical error (though it IS something up with which pedants have a difficult time putting).
6.22.2009 6:50pm
Fub:
Jay wrote at 6.22.2009 4:13pm:
Your childhood sounds interesting, if troubled.
Boring by today's standards, due to insufficient TV exposure. That's why I paid attention to the little words that the big people used.
6.22.2009 7:49pm
Curt Fischer:
bgg
I say “to garnish wages” is to sprinkle parsley but even as I say it I think I sound pedantic.


Parsley that has been *sprinkled* is not a garnish, at least not as commonly understood. A garnish is usually a sprig of herbs or a slice of fruit on the side of a plate or dish of food, not what is sprinkled on top. For example, when they grate fresh Parmesan on your pasta at Italian restaurants, they are *not* garnishing your dish with cheese. But when you order the rack of lamb and the plate has a few sprigs of rosemary on the side, hey, that's a garnish.

So Prof. Volokh's colleauge is going to be pedantic about it, he should at least understand the common meaning of the definition he doesn't like.
6.22.2009 8:08pm
DeezRightWingNutz:
I'm pretty sure I've seen the chefs on The Food Network use the term "garnish" to describe the sprinkling of herbs on top of food (chives on an omelet, say).
6.22.2009 9:08pm
Kevin E (mail):
no-one really thinks even for a moment about the limbs of forest animals, for instance, when they hear about “bear arms.”

Well, no one except comedians/comedy writers.


Or T-shirt makers.
6.22.2009 11:53pm
Patrick216:
I do more than my fair share of creditor's rights and bankruptcy work, so let me speak from first hand experience. Under the garnishment statutes in my state and in most others I'm aware of, a "garnishee" is the entity (usually a bank or employer) who is in possession of the asset or the funds subject to garnishment. Trying to use "garnishee" as a verb to describe the garnishment process would confuse courts and parties.
6.23.2009 9:27am
Mike S.:
The pedant in me would like to point out that your correspondant was either persuaded to to go back to garnish as a verb or convinced that he should go back to garnish as a verb; he should not have been convinced to go back to garnish as a verb.
6.23.2009 9:54am
Lou Gots (mail):
"To garnishee" logically could mean, if anything, "to place in the status of garnishee." This is something which wuld be done to the custodian of the garnished property, not to the property itself. "To garnishee" funds makes no sense at all, and the usage is no more than a ratification of ignorance.

It is true that this is how language evolves; it is also irrelevant. A successful language has conserving institutions to preserve its usefulness as a medium of communication and a store of meaning. High among these conserving institutions are the acasemy and the learned professions. If we were to abandon our responsibilities to enforce precision in the use of words, we would be abandoning our civilization to a kind of modern punishment of Babel, in which the people would be scattered in lonely confusion, unable to communicate.
6.23.2009 11:18am
Speedwell (mail):
<i>...in which the people would be scattered in lonely confusion, unable to communicate.</i>

Because as things stand now, people are remarkably clearheaded, cohesive, and concise. Right?
6.23.2009 1:24pm
MikeS (mail):
If they take 100%, your wages have been gar-nichted.
6.24.2009 4:03am
neurodoc:
bobh: It was NEVER "correctly" regarded as a grammatical error, because it IS NOT AND NEVER WAS a grammatical error. Nor is ending a sentence with a preposition a grammatical error (though it IS something up with which pedants have a difficult time putting).
If "NEVER correctly regarded as a grammatical error," then how did the notion that it was grammatical error get started? Any other pedantic obsessions, whether about grammatical or other matters, that are simply wrong? I can stop worrying about what high-minded people will think if I split infinitives and end sentences with prepositions?

Where do you stand on use of the subjunctive and "less versus fewer." ("Less" rather than "fewer" when talking about that which is discrete or numberable always grates on my ear.)
6.24.2009 11:00am
neurodoc:
<blockquote><b>Tony Tutins</b>: This discussion impresses me gar nisht.</blockquote>Does "gar nisht" = "gornisht"?
6.24.2009 11:59am
David Schwartz (mail):
Do people really confuse celery with salary?
6.24.2009 12:00pm
Larry Fafarman (mail) (www):
I once thought that "garnishee" was a verb. That was many years ago, and now is the first time I have heard anything to the contrary.

The non-legal meaning of "garnish" does not just refer to food -- "garnish" can also be a verb or noun referring to any kind of decoration, ornamentation, embellishment, etc.. In fact, some people do not like the bitter taste of a sprig of parsley and so they assume it is just a decoration.

BTW, I have proposed that Darwinists hire process servers to serve process on school boards to initiate lawsuits complaining that calling evolution a "theory" violates the establishment clause because the colloquial meaning of "theory" is different from the scientific meaning.
6.25.2009 11:33pm

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