Monday, March 17, 2014

Serving Up Deserts

Not only did I recently learn that 'peruse' is an auto-antonym or Janus word, but I also learned about deserts, desserts, and deserts.

Waydaminit, AC. You just typed 'deserts' twice. Wasamatterwifyouman? Well, yes and no. The two usages are spelled the same way, but they are pronounced differently.

First, I typed 'desert' as in an habitually dry place like the Sahara or Death Valley for example.

Then, I typed 'desserts' as in ice cream and apple pie.

I won't go over the pronunciations because you all know that, but, in passing, I will offer up my wife's tip about remembering how to spell 'dessert.' You see, dessert is so good that you want two helpings. Therefore you type 's' (or 'ess') twice.

But I digress.

In the third instance, 'desert' is spelled like the arid region but pronounced like the after-dinner treat. Yes indeedy. You probably knew that because you're smart, but I didn't because I'm ... well ... uh ... you know ...

The only place that we employ the third usage, or at least how I employ it, is in the phrase, 'just deserts.'

Now, I have always thought that it was desserts with the two esses in the 'just desserts' phrase, but that is not the case. It is not that you are getting a rotten dessert for doing something naughty. Nope: you are getting what you 'deserve.' 'Desert' in this sense is an otherwise obsolete word, but we have kept the phrase, and that is what it really means.

You pronounce it like 'dessert' but you get what you 'deserve.'

Who knew?

Not me.

Apparently, an old codger can learn new things, even if not every day. The trick is to remember. I think I will now.


10 comments:

Tabor said...

As can an old codgett!

Donna said...

As in, His just deserts....
Cool...
hughugs

TexWisGirl said...

how cool! but my head hurts now... :)

Hilary said...

Well then, this is not what I thought you were going to say about the second pronunciation of "desert." There is a third and completely common usage of the word and it also sounds like "dessert".. when used as a verb - its meaning: to abandon.

DesSert... an extra helping makes my S too big. ;)

Gail Dixon said...

It amazes me that a foreigner could come here and grasp the English language. But they do!

Regenia said...

When I review the English language like this it seems kind of amazing any of us learned it!

The Chicken's Consigliere said...

Hmmm. I also thought it was Just Desserts. Learn something new every day. I thought you were going to say "desert" as in "he deserted his post".

Lorna Cunningham-Rushton said...

I once plost a$10 bet on deserts

KGMom said...

OK, you sent me off to the "Google" to look up auto-antonym, as well as more than one meaning for "peruse." So I too learned something.
But I did know about "just deserts"--one out of three.

Mary Gilmour said...

I have only ever seen 'just deserts' as the plural. More common as a verb, as the chicken person (?!) pointed out.
I have two otherwise intelligent daughters, one with a PhD, who cannot distinguish between something with a lot of sand and something with a lot of sugar. In spite of Mom the ex English teacher nagging like hell.
Sigh.