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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Desert vs desert

Further to my previous posting about desserts and deserts, I should point out that the "desert" in "just deserts" is not the dry, sandy place. These are two different words; they just happen to be spelled the same way. The Sahara is a desert (pronounced DEZZert); the word comes from the Latin desertus (abandoned, left waste) and is related to the verb "desert", which is (confusingly) pronounced duhZERT.

The "desert" in "just deserts" is pronounced duhZERT, but is related to the word "deserve".

So, to summarize:
desert 1. noun. dry sandy place, like the Sahara. Pronounced DEZZert
desert 2. verb. abandon. Pronounced duhZERT.
desert 3. noun. what you deserve. Now only used in the phrase "just deserts". Pronounced duhZERT
dessert. noun. sweet thing served at the end of a meal. Pronounced duhZERT.

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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.