I might even be able to remember the first time I saw a garnish. It would have been a sprig of parsley, and it would have been on a piece of deep-fried fish.
photo by James Petts
It was a thrilling moment. A herb! Food, with a decoration! What sophistication!
(By the way, from the very earliest age I ranked restaurants according to whether they served chips, chipped potatoes or French fried potatoes, thus neatly demonstrating both my life-long interest in the mechanics of language and the sort of restaurants our family could afford to patronise.)
Anyway, a garnish. It's stuff you put on top of a meal and don't mix in. It might be ground nutmeg, it might be chopped coriander, it might be a scattering of violets.
photo of a bit of tarragon about to drown in some sauce by Alexander Guy
Some people look down on those who eat the garnish, but they aren't the sort of people worth bothering with.
There are other sorts of garnish, though they're harder to spot. One sort of garnish means to warn that a legal trial is going to take place, or (in previous times) to summon someone to a trial already in progress; another sort of garnish is a payment extorted illegally, as by a jailer from a prisoner, or by any bully from someone less powerful than they are.
Luckily I don't expect anyone to be demanding money from me, so tonight I'll just put some chopped dill on my salmon.
Well, I will if I've got any dill, anyway.
And any salmon.
Spot the Frippet: a garnish. This word comes from the Old French garnir, to adorn, and before that from some German language, where it might have some loose connection with the word warn.