[ dih-zurt ]
/ dɪˈzɜrt /


Usually deserts. reward or punishment that is deserved: Death was his desert.
the state or fact of deserving reward or punishment.
the state or condition of being worthy, as in character or behavior.



Test your memory on these verbal firecrackers from the week of June 29 to July 5!
Question 1 of 7

Idioms for desert

    get/receive/etc. one's (just) deserts, to be punished or rewarded in a manner appropriate to one's actions or behavior: Some people felt he had gotten his just deserts, having been imprisoned and relieved of his ill-gotten gains, but others would have preferred old-style public flogging, followed by drawing and quartering, and who can blame them?

Origin of desert

1275–1325; Middle English < Old French deserte, noun use of feminine past participle of deservir to deserve

synonym study for desert

3. Desert, merit, worth refer to the quality in a person, action, or thing that entitles recognition, especially favorable recognition. Desert is the quality that entitles one to a just reward: according to her deserts. Merit is usually the excellence that entitles to praise: a person of great merit. Worth is always used in a favorable sense and signifies inherent value or goodness: The worth of your contribution is incalculable.


deserts desserts

Quotations related to desert

  • "The words of the Divina Commedia are still the mightiest and most living words in which man has ever painted in detail the true deserts of sin, penitence, and sanctity."
    -Rev. John C. Eccleston, from his lectures on Dante Alighieri The Churchman, vol. 53 (January 2, 1886)
  • "I have no sympathy with those who invested their money in slave property. They not only received their just deserts in having their property confiscated, but they should have been compelled to make restitution to the last penny to the poor slaves whom they had systematically robbed."
    -Timothy Thomas Fortune Black and White: Land, Labor, and Politics in the South (1884)
  • "Some will always mistake the degree of their own desert."
    -Samuel Johnson The Rambler, No. 193 (January 21, 1752) Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

British Dictionary definitions for just deserts (1 of 3)

/ (ˈdɛzət) /


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

British Dictionary definitions for just deserts (2 of 3)

/ (dɪˈzɜːt) /


(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 forms of desert

deserter, noundeserted, adjective

Word Origin for desert

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

British Dictionary definitions for just deserts (3 of 3)

/ (dɪˈzɜːt) /


(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

Scientific definitions for just deserts

[ dĕzərt ]

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 just deserts (1 of 2)

just deserts

A deserved punishment or reward, as in He got his just deserts when Mary jilted him. This idiom employs desert in the sense of “what one deserves,” a usage dating from the 1300s but obsolete except in this expression.

Idioms and Phrases with just deserts (2 of 2)


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