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[dih-zurt] /dɪˈzɜrt/
verb (used with object)
to leave (a person, place, etc.) without intending to return, especially in violation of a duty, promise, or the like:
He deserted his wife.
Synonyms: abandon, leave, quit; forsake.
(of military personnel) to leave or run away from (service, duty, etc.) with the intention of never returning:
Terrified of the approaching battle, he deserted his post just before dawn.
to fail (someone) at a time of need:
None of his friends had deserted him.
verb (used without object)
to forsake or leave one's duty, obligations, etc. (sometimes followed by from, to, etc.):
Many deserted during the food shortage.
Synonyms: abdicate, resign.
(of military personnel) to leave service, duty, etc., with no intention of returning:
Troops were deserting to the enemy.
Synonyms: go AWOL.
Origin of desert2
1470-80; < Middle French déserter < Late Latin dēsertāre, frequentative of Latin dēserere; see desert1
Related forms
desertedly, adverb
desertedness, noun
deserter, noun
predeserter, noun
Can be confused
desert, dessert.
Synonym Study
1. Desert, abandon, forsake mean to leave behind persons, places, or things. Desert implies intentionally violating an oath, formal obligation, or duty: to desert campaign pledges. Abandon suggests giving up wholly and finally, whether of necessity, unwillingly, or through shirking responsibilities: to abandon a hopeless task; abandon a child. Forsake has emotional connotations, since it implies violating obligations of affection or association: to forsake a noble cause.
Related Quotations
“There used to be two kinds of kisses: First when girls were kissed and deserted; second, when they were engaged. Now there's a third kind, where the man is kissed and deserted.“
—F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise (1920)
“Girty had deserted his military post at Port Pitt, and become an outlaw of his own volition.“
—Zane Grey, The Spirit of the Border (1906)
“I had a strong and comforting faith that I should be able to organize and conduct an Administration which would satisfy and win the country. This faith never deserted me.“
—Rutherford B. Hayes, “Diary (January 23, 1881)“ Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes: Nineteenth President of the United States, vol. III ed. Charles Richard Williams (1922-1926)
“[A]ll she knew was that her father had deserted from the Soviet army many years before. She believed that to be the reason he was in hiding.“
—Steve Martini, Guardian of Lies (2009) Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for deserter
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Upon the line of baseness,—the deserter is placed next to the traitor.

  • I shall remain where I am; I may as well be shot as a deserter.

    The Downfall Emile Zola
  • There was nothing of importance to be done, but he felt a little like a deserter, nevertheless.

    Cap'n Eri Joseph Crosby Lincoln
  • I, who owed my commission to his noble name, was a republican, a deserter!

    The Strollers Frederic S. Isham
  • Indeed, I had only to say anywhere I was a deserter, and every one was kind to me.

    Tony Butler Charles James Lever
British Dictionary definitions for deserter


a region that is devoid or almost devoid of vegetation, esp because of low rainfall
an uncultivated uninhabited region
a place which lacks some desirable feature or quality: a cultural desert
(modifier) of, relating to, or like a desert; infertile or desolate
Word Origin
C13: from Old French, from Church Latin dēsertum, from Latin dēserere to abandon, literally: to sever one's links with, from de- + serere to bind together


(transitive) to leave or abandon (a person, place, etc) without intending to return, esp in violation of a duty, promise, or obligation
(military) to abscond from (a post or duty) with no intention of returning
(transitive) to fail (someone) in time of need: his good humour temporarily deserted him
(transitive) (Scots law) to give up or postpone (a case or charge)
Derived Forms
deserter, noun
deserted, adjective
Word Origin
C15: from French déserter, from Late Latin dēsertāre, from Latin dēserere to forsake; see desert1


(often pl) something that is deserved or merited; just reward or punishment
the state of deserving a reward or punishment
virtue or merit
Word Origin
C13: from Old French deserte, from deservir to deserve
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for deserter

1630s, agent noun from desert (v.).



"to leave one's duty," late 14c., from Old French deserter (12c.) "leave," literally "undo or sever connection," from Late Latin desertare, frequentative of Latin deserere "to abandon, to leave, forsake, give up, leave in the lurch," from de- "undo" (see de-) + serere "join together, put in a row" (see series). Military sense is first recorded 1640s. Related: Deserted; deserting.



"wasteland," early 13c., from Old French desert (12c.) "desert, wilderness, wasteland; destruction, ruin," from Late Latin desertum (source of Italian diserto, Old Provençal dezert, Spanish desierto), literally "thing abandoned" (used in Vulgate to translate "wilderness"), noun use of neuter past participle of Latin deserere "forsake" (see desert (v.)).

Sense of "waterless, treeless region" was in Middle English and gradually became the main meaning. Commonly spelled desart in 18c., which is not etymological but at least avoids confusion with the other two senses of the word. Classical Latin indicated this idea with deserta, plural of desertus.



"suitable reward or punishment" (now usually plural and with just), c.1300, from Old French deserte, noun use of past participle of deservir "be worthy to have," ultimately from Latin deservire "serve well" (see deserve).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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deserter in Science
A large, dry, barren region, usually having sandy or rocky soil and little or no vegetation. Water lost to evaporation and transpiration in a desert exceeds the amount of precipitation; most deserts average less than 25 cm (9.75 inches) of precipitation each year, concentrated in short local bursts. Deserts cover about one fifth of the Earth's surface, with the principal warm deserts located mainly along the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, where warm, rising equatorial air masses that have already lost most of their moisture descend over the subtropical regions. Cool deserts are located at higher elevations in the temperate regions, often on the lee side of a barrier mountain range where the prevailing winds drop their moisture before crossing the range.

Our Living Language  : A desert is defined not by temperature but by the sparse amount of water found in a region. An area with an annual rainfall of fewer than 25 centimeters (9.75 inches) generally qualifies as a desert. In spite of the dryness, however, some animals and plants have adapted to desert life and thrive in these harsh environments. While different animals live in different types of deserts, the dominant animals of warm deserts are reptiles, including snakes and lizards, small mammals, such as ground squirrels and mice, and arthropods, such as scorpions and beetles. These animals are usually nocturnal, spending the day resting in the shade of plants or burrowed in the ground, and emerging in the evenings to hunt or eat. Warm-desert plants are mainly ground-hugging shrubs, small wooded trees, and cacti. Plant and animal life is scarcer in the cool desert, where the precipitation falls mainly as snow. Plants are generally scattered mosses and grasses that are able to survive the cold by remaining low to the ground, avoiding the wind, and animal life can include both large and small mammals, such as deer and jackrabbits, as well as a variety of raptors and other birds.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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Idioms and Phrases with deserter


In addition to the idiom beginning with desert also see: just deserts
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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