just deserts

plural noun

formal
: the punishment that one deserves
We all want to see this criminal get his just deserts.

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Where does the phrase just deserts come from?

Why do we say that someone has gotten their just deserts? Does this turn of phrase have anything to do with dessert (“a sweet food eaten at the end of a meal”) or desert (“a dry land with few plants and little rainfall”)? In fact, the phrase employs neither of these words. Instead, it uses a completely unrelated word that happens to be pronounced like the word for sweets and spelled like the one for a dry place: desert, meaning “reward or punishment deserved or earned by one’s qualities or acts.” This little-used noun is, as you might have guessed, related to the English verb deserve. It has nothing to do with arid, dry land, or with cookies and ice cream.

Examples of just deserts in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web By the end of the novel, a bit of evil has been squashed, just deserts have been served, and new community has been formed – all without the tossing of a single bruising can. Erin Douglass, The Christian Science Monitor, 12 Oct. 2023 Adam McKay’s atrocious Don’t Look Up was humorless about its climate-change heroes (except when Meryl Streep got her just deserts). Armond White, National Review, 6 Oct. 2023 Some social media users were not altogether sorry for the attack and suggested that the rich and powerful were getting their just deserts. Tatiana Stanovaya, Foreign Affairs, 8 Aug. 2023 Still, Trump’s decision to campaign in the opposite direction—and expose the extent to which the Republican base isn’t monomaniacally opposed to these programs—is a particularly humiliating serving of just deserts for the GOP after its near-century-long fight to undo the New Deal. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 2 Mar. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'just deserts.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Dictionary Entries Near just deserts

Cite this Entry

“Just deserts.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/just%20deserts. Accessed 18 Apr. 2024.

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