The phrase “just deserts” came up in our editing the other day, as in The villain got his just deserts. It means an appropriate punishment or reward. The phrase is often spelled “just desserts,” and it may be one of the most punned idioms in English. I myself have played on it in a headline. A colleague wondered about the origin of the phrase and why it isn’t “just desserts.” I remembered reading that the derivation of “desert,” pronounced with the accent on the second syllable (not like the dry, barren “desert”), is from “deserve.” That is the explanation in “Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words” by Bill Bryson.
The American Heritage Dictionary of English Usage explains further that the term comes from Latin and is related to “service.” Read that explanation here.
This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.