Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Truth ungarnished... or unvarnished?

I went to write "the plain, ungarnished truth" recently; then thought: should that be "the plain, unvarnished truth"?

I was in a quandary. I didn't know whether the truth was unadorned, or whether the truth was unpolished. Either, in my opinion, could work. A check online seemed to favour ungarnished, however all the examples were American. The more I read, the more doubtful I became. 

While a minor point, what made me doubt 'ungarnished' even more was that it shows up as a spelling error, while unvarnished does not. This made me think that ungarnished was a mondegreen (more on these here). 

How I wished our friend, Michael Quinion, from world wide words, was still etymology-ing. Michael was an Oxford English Dictionary reader from 1992 to 2016, who managed to polish off over 175,000 English additions for the OED. Plenty of chops there to provide excellent, RELIABLE usage advice. 

Then I realised that nothing on the web ever really dies, and that his site (here) was still up. I went and checked. And while Michael Quinion did not explicitly explore the difference between an garnished or unvarnished, he did have a reference to "the plain or unvarnished truth" (Quinion, 2 July 2016).

So unvarnished truth it is :-)


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