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noun des·ert \ˈde-zərt\

Definition of desert

  1. 1 a :  arid land with usually sparse vegetation; especially :  such land having a very warm climate and receiving less than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of sporadic rainfall annually b :  an area of water apparently devoid of life

  2. 2 archaic :  a wild uninhabited and uncultivated tract

  3. 3 :  a desolate or forbidding area <lost in a desert of doubt>

de·ser·tic play \de-ˈzər-tik\ adjective
des·ert·like play \-ˌlīk\ adjective

Examples of desert

  1. Satellite images taken this year and 20 years ago show that the desert is in retreat thanks to a resurgence of trees. —Andy Coghlan, New Scientist, 14-20 Oct. 2006

  2. The coastal plain is a desert in terms of precipitation—less than six inches fall annually—but what falls as snow stays to be later distributed by the wind. —John Hildebrand, Harper's, November 2003

  3. The house finch, a songbird native to the Western desert, has proved to be highly adaptable, having rapidly colonized the Eastern states after its release on Long Island in the early 1940's. —Jane E. Brody, New York Times, 1 Jan. 2002

Origin of desert

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin desertum, from Latin, neuter of desertus, past participle of deserere to desert, from de- + serere to join together — more at series

First Known Use: 13th century



adjective des·ert \ˈde-zərt\

Definition of desert

  1. 1 :  desolate and sparsely occupied or unoccupied <a desert island>

  2. 2 :  of or relating to a desert (see 1desert)

  3. 3 archaic :  forsaken

Examples of desert

  1. While my very American mother swabbed the dishes, Dad lingered at the dinner table, recreating in visceral detail the taste of mint in a Bedouin teacup under a desert sky, or the golden plumage of his father's saluki dogs, or the filigreed robes of the young king at the camel races. —Diana Abu-Jaber, Vogue, May 2007

  2. … the place in the Texas Panhandle where Highway 66 rolled down off the land of farms and ranches into the beginnings of the desert grassland and red-rock country that dominated New Mexico. —Susan Croce Kelly, Route 66, 1988

Origin of desert

(see 1desert)

First Known Use: 13th century



noun de·sert \di-ˈzərt\

Definition of desert

  1. 1 :  the quality or fact of meriting reward or punishment

  2. 2 :  deserved reward or punishment —usually used in plural <got their just deserts>

  3. 3 :  excellence, worth

Origin of desert

Middle English deserte, from Anglo-French, from feminine of desert, past participle of deservir to deserve

First Known Use: 13th century



verb de·sert \di-ˈzərt\

Simple Definition of desert

  • : to go away from (a place) : to leave (a place)

  • : to leave and stop helping or supporting (someone or something)

  • of a useful quality or ability : to no longer be with (someone) in a time of need

Full Definition of desert

  1. transitive verb
  2. 1 :  to withdraw from or leave usually without intent to return <desert a town>

  3. 2 a :  to leave in the lurch <desert a friend in trouble> b :  to abandon (military service) without leave

  4. intransitive verb
  5. :  to quit one's post, allegiance, or service without leave or justification; especially :  to abandon military duty without leave and without intent to return

de·sert·er noun

Examples of desert

  1. Boulet saw his longtime partner desert him in the midst of the storm, then had his wife and daughter skip town in its aftermath. —Mike Flaherty, TV Guide, 10-16 Sept. 2007

  2. Left alone for a moment, he feels mournful, bereft—and then panicky, when he thinks he has been deserted again. —Richard Corliss, Time, 7 Mar. 2005

  3. But now the building seemed deserted at two in the afternoon, and I soon learned that the paper, incredibly, was forced to advertise for applicants to the staff. —Arthur Miller, Timebends,1987

  4. The inhabitants had deserted the town.

  5. She had been married for just over a year when her husband deserted her.

  6. He was deserted by his friends and family.

Origin of desert

French déserter, from Late Latin desertare, frequentative of Latin deserere

First Known Use: 1603

Synonym Discussion of desert

abandon, desert, forsake mean to leave without intending to return. abandon suggests that the thing or person left may be helpless without protection <abandoned children>. desert implies that the object left may be weakened but not destroyed by one's absence <a deserted town>. forsake suggests an action more likely to bring impoverishment or bereavement to that which is forsaken than its exposure to physical dangers <a forsaken lover>.

Seen and Heard

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February 13, 2016

a trying or distressing experience

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