Dictionary.com

Is it Just Deserts or Just Desserts?

justdeserts

Several months ago, Dictionary.com featured the word comeuppance as a Word of the Day. Comeuppance is defined as “deserved reward or just deserts, usually unpleasant.” More than a few devoted users wrote in to inform us that there was a typo in the definition: just deserts should be just desserts. Were our users correct? Was an s left out of this expression by mistake?

What our hawkeyed users spotted was not a typo, but an unfamiliar sense of desert, one pronounced the same way as the more familiar (and more delicious) dessert with a double s. These two terms, though only one letter apart and pronounced identically, have different etymologies. The particular sense of desert that appears in just deserts ultimately derives from the Old French verb deservir meaning “to deserve,” and has been around in English since the late 1200s. Dictionary.com defines desert as “reward or punishment that is deserved.” The idiom get/receive one’s just deserts means “to be punished or rewarded in a manner appropriate to one’s actions or behavior.” The expression just deserts, often following the words “get one’s,” “have one’s,” “receive one’s,” or “meet with one’s” has been used in English since the 1300s, and is still popular today.

Dessert with the double s ultimately derives from the French desservir meaning “to clear the table.” Dictionary.com defines dessert as “cake, pie, fruit, pudding, ice cream, etc., served as the final course of meal.” While it is certainly true that a meal of cake, and cake alone, could be called “just desserts,” this is not the spelling or meaning of the phrase that has been around in English since the late 1300s. Next time you’re talking about someone’s comeuppance make sure you use just deserts with one s.

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71 Comments

  1. Anna -  September 2, 2016 - 8:58 pm

    What is the origin and meaning of the phrase, “have your cake and eat it too”?

    Reply
  2. Rebecca -  August 21, 2016 - 5:09 pm

    Revised: I got my just deserts after I ate just desserts because I was deserted by my guests for eating their share…
    for my comeuppance I do not care
    for I got plenty and they did not
    So my recompense was from what I got

    Reply
  3. Rebecca -  August 21, 2016 - 2:03 pm

    I got my just deserts after I ate just desserts because I was deserted by my guests for eating their share…
    for my comeuppance I do not care
    for I got plenty and they did not
    So my recompense was from what I got

    Reply
  4. Rebecca -  August 21, 2016 - 1:46 pm

    I got my just desert after I ate just dessert because I was deserted by my guests for eating their share…
    for my comeuppance I do not care
    for I got plenty and they did not
    So my recompense was from what I got

    Reply
  5. Eff johnson -  April 4, 2016 - 4:15 am

    Um, you all are “just” crazy!

    Reply
  6. Steve Mathisen -  March 9, 2016 - 4:42 pm

    It would be helpful if you actually answered the question clearly. Citing reasons for both options just leaves the question in a muddle. How about some clarity in the answer?

    Reply
    • Bart -  May 20, 2016 - 9:09 am

      They did answer the question. Since the expression means “what is justly deserved”, the word “desert” (with accent on the second syllable), which means “something deserved”, is the correct spelling. Sorry that wasn’t clear, but they didn’t cite “reasons for both options”, they explained why one is right and the other is wrong, and the reasons for the confusion.

      Reply
  7. ETO_Film_Buff -  December 16, 2015 - 9:17 pm

    So, if you never eat anything healthy and instead eat just desserts, then you’ll eventually get your just deserts and and up sick, obese, or both!

    Reply
  8. Kay -  August 7, 2015 - 2:05 pm

    Sounds like I will be using “comeuppance” just to avoid arguing about this phrase!

    PS- Just desserts = that chocolate pie in “The Help”
    LOL

    Reply
  9. Scia -  August 6, 2015 - 5:20 pm

    Come to think, part of the confusion might be how often a joke involving actual desserts has been made. Growing up, I saw it as ‘Just Desserts’ on TV, with references to stuff like cake and pie. Having no context or reference for the original, I didn’t even realize it was a joke and thought that’s what I was actually supposed to be.

    This sort of thing seems to have happened a lot in my life, actually.

    Reply
  10. achilles_ny -  August 5, 2015 - 11:54 am

    I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but the term is “just deserves”… not “just deserts” or “just desserts”.

    “Just desserts” is part of a punchline where someone gets hit in the face with a pie…

    Reply
    • liv_rocks -  August 7, 2015 - 12:56 am

      Um, no its not!!

      Reply
      • liv_rocks -  August 7, 2015 - 12:57 am

        * it’s

        Reply
    • ETO_Film_Buff -  December 16, 2015 - 9:10 pm

      Unfortunately, you’re pretty much wrong. No one that speaks American English correctly ever says, “You got your just deserves,” because it’s incorrect and sounds ridiculous.

      Reply
    • ETO_Film_Buff -  December 16, 2015 - 9:18 pm

      I would recommend reading the article above.

      Reply
  11. Arlo -  August 5, 2015 - 2:56 am

    Now I am a teeny bit confused

    Reply
  12. qwerty -  August 3, 2015 - 2:53 am

    good

    Reply
  13. Leopard -  June 19, 2015 - 10:47 am

    Wow. I always thought that it was a phrase about some chef poisoning some ice cream! (Awkward Silence)

    Reply
  14. Tammy Giroux -  June 18, 2015 - 2:31 pm

    It’s funny, I always knew what the expression meant, but with the spelling with the double s made no sense to me at all. But now, after reading the real spelling and meaning of desert, I fully understand. As for everyone saying that desert, whatever the meaning sounds the same, makes no sense to me at all. I’ve always pronounced the arid definition as deh-zert, the leaving behind definition as more emphasis on the e, dee-zert, and the yummy dessert as dih-zert.

    Reply
  15. BigSoph -  June 16, 2015 - 9:12 am

    Easy to remember

    If you get just desserts, you are stressed from justice (stressed is desserts backwards)
    If you get just deserts, you have been given or granted property but only in areas of minimal precipitation
    e.g. you now own parts of the Atacam Desert, the Antarctic, the Negev, Death Valley and the Gobi. You have received just deserts

    Reply
    • Woodside -  January 14, 2016 - 5:14 pm

      You’re wrong. Deserts (accent on the first syllable) are areas of low population. They can be arid zones and short on human inhabitants for that reason. Those criminals who get what they deserve receive their just deserts (one s, accent on the second syllable). Read the article.

      Reply
  16. Amy -  June 15, 2015 - 2:15 pm

    Well, that’s one I never got right… That’s kind of embarrassing.

    Reply
  17. keke -  June 15, 2015 - 9:45 am

    a.m. p.m.

    Reply
  18. DN -  June 12, 2015 - 5:57 am

    Use Deserved instead Deserts, and for the Desserts I ate already can i have a Desserts, :)

    Reply
  19. Ayush Pandey -  June 10, 2015 - 11:20 pm

    How FUNNY it would be to recieve COMEUPPANCE (just DESERT) to eat just DESSERTS for the whole day.
    ROFL!!

    Reply
  20. Robert Helle -  June 2, 2015 - 9:26 am

    I thought ‘Just Desserts’ was a phrase derived from the French meaning in respect to the fact that Marie Antoniette got her ‘Just Desserts’ after the French Revolution. Heheh. Learn something new everyday I guess!

    Reply
    • Anna -  June 13, 2015 - 1:39 am

      Robert,

      I say,let them eat cake!!

      Anna
      p.s cannot believe that these words can be confused….how amazing.

      Reply
  21. Claire -  June 1, 2015 - 10:35 pm

    I have always written this one incorrectly without once questioning the origin of the expression. For me, someone getting their ‘just desserts’ was probably (tricked into, or) forced to eat a slice of humble pie. Thank you for posting this. Lord knows how long I would have continued making this mistake, a real shame given how much I LOVE desserts; I should have known better than to assume desserts could ever be a punishment. Now “eating crow”, that definitely sounds like comeuppance.

    Reply
    • Jeanie -  June 4, 2015 - 4:22 pm

      Claire, I’m in total agreement with you. I always imagined a person getting some sort of punishment that left a bad taste in his or her mouth (a foul-tasting “dessert” of some type.) I, too, always used a double s in spelling that word. Now I know better. Interesting etymology.

      Loved your comment. Thanks for the humor!

      Reply
    • Bryony -  August 10, 2015 - 3:42 am

      But Humble Pie isn’t dessert – or pudding – it’s mains!! ;-)

      That said,that’s exactly how I pictured it too. :-)

      Reply
  22. Wilma McKenzie -  May 31, 2015 - 3:15 am

    Thanks! I like this one. I usually write ‘comeuppance’ but say ‘ just deserts’ (never thought it was spelt any other way) . Just the other day I looked up the spelling of comeuppance to ensure I spelt it correctly. It still looks funny to me. LOL!

    Reply
    • Jeanie -  June 4, 2015 - 4:27 pm

      Comeuppance is a word I have to look up, too. It’s a funny-sounding word that isn’t often used these days; I like hearing (or reading) it.

      Reply
      • keke -  June 15, 2015 - 9:45 am

        i know right

        Reply
    • Emily -  July 6, 2015 - 3:27 pm

      Spelt??

      Reply
      • Stephanie -  August 5, 2015 - 9:20 am

        I was wondering about “spelt” also Emily……..but just looked it up! haha…it’s the “simple past tense and past participle of spell”.
        (you learn something every day! I learned 2 things haha – because I, too, thought it was “just desserts” – I love everyone’s humor on this subject.) :-)

        Reply
  23. anita deshwal -  May 30, 2015 - 11:35 pm

    Its good to be aware about this difference

    Reply
  24. Lenny -  May 30, 2015 - 5:57 pm

    Kek or Kekk?

    ( ͡°͜ ʖ ͡°)

    Reply
    • tadhgvonnorth -  July 23, 2015 - 10:56 pm

      now that is one creepy looking face Lenny :)

      Reply
    • SueSchneid22 -  August 4, 2015 - 11:16 am

      Can you please tell us how to make that little face?

      Reply
  25. Charles van Blommestein -  May 29, 2015 - 7:59 am

    I learned the difference between these two as one to imply a treat to be served after a meal and the other to mean a barren, dry landscape.

    Could these two versions eventually become synonymous – with the additional-options of cooking styles (pointing the finger at H.M.C. Gordon Ramsey)?

    Reply
    • Miranda -  June 1, 2015 - 4:58 am

      You are confusing the “desert” that is pronounced [dih-zurt] with the “desert” that is pronounced [dez-ert]. The latter is, indeed, a barren, dry landscape. The former, pronounced like the verb “desert” (as in “He was warned not to desert his post”) is a lesser-used noun, defined in the article above. If you look up “desert” on dictionary.com, you will find three different entries: one for the definition you have listed, one for the verb, and the third for the word described above.

      Reply
    • Lisa -  June 1, 2015 - 8:55 am

      You are correct w/yr definitions. However, what is being explained is an additional definition for ‘desert.’ It’s difficult to ingest when just reading the words. If we could hear the word in the definition that would assist. (Maybe it will be an option soon!.

      Reply
  26. Tino Gordon -  May 28, 2015 - 10:00 pm

    I am going to spend a little time with this one; they always confuses me but am smart enough to avoid them

    Reply
    • Diane1948 -  May 29, 2015 - 1:22 pm

      It’s what you JUSTly or fairly DESERve. Easy. You differentiate dessert, a sweet after a meal, by the double S. “Dessert was so good, I had to go back for seconds,” will make you remember the second S.

      Reply
      • Masilla -  May 31, 2015 - 2:21 pm

        Thank you, Diane1948. Your comment not only makes it very easy to differentiate but also to remember the difference between these two. Bravo!

        Reply
  27. Thomas -  May 28, 2015 - 8:40 pm

    That’s DES-erts meaning arid regions of the earth. It just occurred to me that you meant deserts as in leaves behind. So we’re both correct. And I should have read all the comments. Naughty boy! I let indignation run away with me. I will be more careful in the future.

    Reply
  28. Thomas -  May 28, 2015 - 7:55 pm

    ‘Desert’ and ‘dessert’ are NOT pronouced identically. The pronunciations are DES-ert and des-SERT.

    Reply
    • Masilla -  May 31, 2015 - 2:23 pm

      I agree, Thomas. This article had me questioning whether I had been pronouncing one of these words incorrectly.

      Reply
    • joe -  June 2, 2015 - 8:40 pm

      Desert as in to abandon someone is pronounced the same like Dessert. I think they mean that pronounciation.

      Reply
    • warjna -  June 3, 2015 - 11:25 pm

      Thomas, you are correct in that ‘desert’ the arid landscape and ‘dessert’ the after-dinner treat are not pronounced the same. However, both the words ‘desert’ meaning to leave behind and the one meaning what one has merited by one’s actions are both pronounced the same as the after-dinner treat. Thus, if one ‘deserts’ his post, eventually he will get his just ‘deserts’ — and it won’t be a treat at all. ;-)

      Reply
    • Veronica Fitzrandolph -  June 16, 2015 - 5:13 pm

      Actually, “desert” and “desert” are not pronounced identically. One is a verb and the other a noun.

      You could desert somone in the desert.

      Reply
      • liv_rocks -  August 7, 2015 - 1:02 am

        He said “desert and dessert”, not desert and desert

        LOL

        Reply
  29. Josephine -  May 28, 2015 - 4:49 pm

    Now that it has been explained, and about the derivations of the two words, we can also use a “trick” to remember it. “Just deserts” – use one “s”, the same as “deserved”, since it means “that is deserved”.

    Reply
  30. William Roger Davis -  May 28, 2015 - 1:56 pm

    ‘Even kings must bow to grammar’ is surely so. What, prithee, are the rest of us to do (w/ grammar, & all the rest of language).

    Reply
  31. Karen -  May 28, 2015 - 1:36 pm

    This is one discussion I will not be sharing with my ESOL students!!!!!

    Reply
  32. anonymous -  May 28, 2015 - 11:02 am

    Ha! I’ve always enjoyed that phrase. But I would’ve spelled it wrong… :)

    Reply
  33. OldNassau'67 -  May 28, 2015 - 9:32 am

    In Shelley’s sonnet, just deserts stretch away from the ruins of Ozymandias’ statue.

    Reply
  34. Pezhead -  May 28, 2015 - 7:28 am

    I was told you can remember dessert has two “s” because when it comes to dessert you always go back for seconds.

    Reply
    • Josephine -  May 28, 2015 - 4:51 pm

      Another way to remember “dessert” is “strawberry shortcake” – two “s”

      Reply
      • Diane1948 -  May 29, 2015 - 1:24 pm

        That’s a good one. An English teacher told us, to remember the diff., “Dessert was so good, I went back for seconds.” Reminds of the double S.

        Reply
      • Suzanne -  May 29, 2015 - 9:24 pm

        I always learned the double “s” for pies, cake, etc, some what like you, but not as sweet as yours. When I was young I was taught to spell MISSISSIPPI-M I crooked letter crooked letter I crooked letter I humpback humpback I. For sweet Desserts I always remembered two crooked letters. Taught my daughters the same way!

        Reply
    • JPBofOhio -  May 28, 2015 - 10:03 pm

      I was told the word “desserts” was spelled withe a double “s” because you always wanted more. Having one “desert” was enough for anybody.

      Reply
  35. emfederin -  May 28, 2015 - 3:58 am

    Interesting, though bizarre and confusing.

    Up until now, “desert” has always had 2 meanings to me:

    DEZ-ert, meaning a vast expanse of arid wasteland, or

    deh-ZERT, meaning to abandon.

    Of course “dessert”, also pronounced deh-ZERT, has always been a post-meal treat.

    In the end, maybe it’s best not to get involved at all with deserts, regardless of how many Ss they possess, and just be happy that somewhere, some rat got what was coming to him. :-)

    Reply
  36. fred m -  May 28, 2015 - 3:15 am

    daily word
    thanks

    Reply
  37. Lexi -  May 27, 2015 - 11:42 pm

    Well, guess I got proven wrong. Whoops.

    Reply
  38. Lexi -  May 27, 2015 - 11:38 pm

    It should be “just desserts” for to “desert something” is to completely go away from it, to abandon it

    Reply
    • d -  May 28, 2015 - 11:15 am

      No, that is not the meaning that is being used. It is not desert as in “to abandon something”, it is desert as in “what is deserved”. We are talking about two entirely different meanings. “Just desserts” doesn’t even make sense, unless you are stating that you have earned sweet treats and therefore it is “just” for you to have those desserts.

      Reply
      • Larry -  May 29, 2015 - 6:59 am

        Could be used as in the following:

        “Bring something to eat to the party; but remember, it’s just desserts.”

        Reply
        • Louis -  June 26, 2015 - 4:19 pm

          Well played, Larry.

          Reply
          • Louis -  June 26, 2015 - 4:23 pm

            I know you think I’m slow on the uptake, but I’m new and am reading over old entries.

          • liv_rocks -  August 7, 2015 - 1:03 am

            Hello
            I am from August

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