Origin of desert

1175–1225; Middle English < Anglo-French < Late Latin dēsertum (neuter), noun use of past participle of Latin dēserere to abandon, forsake, equivalent to dē- de- + serere to join together (in a line); cf. series
Related formsde·ser·tic [dih-zur-tik] /dɪˈzɜr tɪk/, adjectivedes·ert·like, adjective
Can be confuseddesert dessert

Synonym study

1, 2. Desert, waste, wilderness refer to areas that are largely uninhabited. Desert emphasizes lack of water (though not specifically high temperature); it refers to a dry, barren, treeless region, usually sandy: a high-altitude frozen desert. Waste emphasizes lack of inhabitants and of cultivation; it is used of wild, barren land: a desolate waste. Wilderness emphasizes the difficulty of finding one's way, whether because of barrenness or of dense vegetation: a trackless wilderness.

Popular references

Desert : A novel by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2008. The book, first published in French in 1980, was translated into English in 2009.
Operation Desert Storm: An air campaign by the U.S. during the 1990–91 Gulf War.
Conflict: Desert Storm: The first in the Conflict series of video games by game developers Pivotal Games. Released in 2002, it is set during the 1990–91 Gulf War.
Related Quotations
  • "Bedouin women tending flocks of goats are the brightest touch of color in the treeless, waterless, and harsh Negev desert."
    -Ruth Craig Fodor’s Israel, 6th Edition (2006)
  • "During this period [Christian Europe] was an intellectual desert, where the mind was uncultivated and permitted to run to waste."
    -W. Tannehill Essay on the Literature of the Moors of Spain The Hesperian, Volume 2 (1838)
  • "In some places mudflats stretch along the ground, tortured and cracked by the dry desert air."
    -Fred Punzo Desert Arthropods: Life History Variations (2000)
  • "A long line of more than a score of camels was something in itself, not to mention the riders in their desert costume."
    -Alexander Wallace The Desert and the Holy Land (1868) Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for desertlike

Historical Examples of desertlike

British Dictionary definitions for desertlike




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 qualitya cultural desert
(modifier) of, relating to, or like a desert; infertile or desolate

Word Origin for desert

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




(tr) 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
(tr) to fail (someone) in time of needhis good humour temporarily deserted him
(tr) Scots law to give up or postpone (a case or charge)
Derived Formsdeserter, noundeserted, adjective

Word Origin for desert

C15: from French déserter, from Late Latin dēsertāre, from Latin dēserere to forsake; see desert 1




(often plural) something that is deserved or merited; just reward or punishment
the state of deserving a reward or punishment
virtue or merit

Word Origin for desert

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

Word Origin and History for desertlike



"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

desertlike 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.
A Closer Look: 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 © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with desertlike


In addition to the idiom beginning with desert

  • desert a sinking ship

also see:

  • just deserts
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.