desert

1 of 4

noun (1)

des·​ert ˈde-zərt How to pronounce desert (audio)
1
: 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
2
: an area of water apparently devoid of life
3
: a desolate or forbidding area
lost in a desert of doubt
4
archaic : a wild uninhabited and uncultivated tract
desertic adjective
desertlike adjective

desert

2 of 4

adjective

des·​ert ˈde-zərt How to pronounce desert (audio)
1
: desolate and sparsely occupied or unoccupied
a desert island
2
: of or relating to a desert (see desert entry 1)
3
archaic : forsaken

desert

3 of 4

verb

de·​sert di-ˈzərt How to pronounce desert (audio)
deserted; deserting; deserts

transitive verb

1
: to withdraw from or leave usually without intent to return
desert a town
2
a
: to leave in the lurch
desert a friend in trouble
b
: to abandon (military service) without leave

intransitive verb

: to quit one's post, allegiance, or service without leave or justification
especially : to abandon military duty without leave and without intent to return

desert

4 of 4

noun (2)

de·​sert di-ˈzərt How to pronounce desert (audio)
1
: deserved reward or punishment
usually used in plural
got their just deserts
2
: the quality or fact of meriting reward or punishment
3

Did you know?

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.

Choose the Right Synonym for 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

Example Sentences

Noun (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 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 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 Adjective 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 … 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 Verb 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 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 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 The inhabitants had deserted the town. She had been married for just over a year when her husband deserted her. He was deserted by his friends and family. See More

Word History

Etymology

Noun (1) and Adjective

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

Verb

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

Noun (2)

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

First Known Use

Noun (1)

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Adjective

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Verb

1603, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

Noun (2)

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of desert was in the 13th century

Dictionary Entries Near desert

Cite this Entry

“Desert.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/desert. Accessed 29 Nov. 2022.

Kids Definition

desert 1 of 4

noun

des·​ert ˈdez-ərt How to pronounce desert (audio)
: dry land with few plants and little rainfall
desertlike adjective

desert

2 of 4

adjective

des·​ert ˈdez-ərt How to pronounce desert (audio)
: of, relating to, or resembling a desert
especially : being barren and without life
a desert island

desert

3 of 4

noun

de·​sert di-ˈzərt How to pronounce desert (audio)
1
: worthiness of reward or punishment
rewarded according to their deserts
2
: a deserved reward or punishment
got your just deserts

desert

4 of 4

verb

de·​sert di-ˈzərt How to pronounce desert (audio)
1
: to withdraw from : leave
desert a town
2
: to leave someone or something one should stay with
deserted a friend in trouble
3
: to fail one in time of need
my courage deserted me
4
: to quit one's post without permission especially with the intention of remaining away permanently
deserter noun
desertion
di-ˈzər-shən
noun

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