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Monday, November 15, 2010

No such thing as "just desserts"

I LOVE desserts. Cake, cookies, ice cream, pumpkin pie... love 'em all. So never would I dismiss these wonderful treats as "just" desserts (unless of course I was saying "Let's eat just dessert and forget about the main course"...).
Neither should you use the phrase "just desserts". Because what you probably mean is "just deserts". When someone gets what is coming to them, it is what they deserve. "Desert" in this case is spelled with only one "s".
Whatever way you think about it, there is no such thing as "just desserts"!
See also my desert vs. desert post.


  1. Regretfully, this one went a bit over my head ... Should I understand that "deserts" is from the word family of "to deserve", some sort of noun derived from a past participle ?

    'Neither should you use the phrase "just desserts".'

    I'm sorry, why not ? I thought in your opening you admitted it might make sense to use it ... If I understand anything, it's that the context and the intention decide whether it is correct or not.

    Was is a little joke there (with not much punctuation to give it away) ? (See below.)

    'Whatever way you think about it, there is no such thing as "just desserts"!'

    I might begin to understand ... It's either that desserts never deserve to be dismissed as "mere" desserts, or the spelling would be wrong - is the pronunciation the same ? - in case it is something which refers to "deserving".

    Well, in case I got it, it was a bit hard.

    By the way, I can't agree that getting what comes your way is getting what you deserve. Again, I might misunderstand. I would say it's more related to a mixture of intelligence/capability/knowledge and being (well-)connected.

    Does "just" in "just desserts" mean "simply"/"merely", or rather something like "fair" ?

    By the way, how did "just" come to mean "simply" ?


  2. E.T.:
    "Getting what's coming to you" does not mean the same as "getting what comes your way". It is an idiom that means roughly "getting your comeuppance". "Just deserts" means what you in justice deserve. It usually has negative connotations.
    How "just" came to mean "simply" is a story for another day.

  3. I believe the confusion is caused by the fact that it is written "just deserts" but pronounced "just desserts", right?

  4. This is correct. See my later post entitled desert vs. desert.

  5. Some desserts, whether because of their design, flavor, or degree of tastefulness, would indeed serve as a comeuppance. A minuscule serving of dessert would also be a just dessert for some greedy gobblers I can think of. That is how I have always imagined just desserts: a plate with a uniquely designed finish to the communal meal is plunked down in front of the deserving dinner guest, who turns a shade paler to realize he has just been handed a delicious public insult.


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.