Wait, So the Saying ISN'T 'Just Desserts?'

Ice Cream Getty 10/17/19

Hold on to your hats, because you’re about to question everything you know about deserts, desserts, and the entire English language: You know how when someone got what they deserved, you say they got their “just desserts?” 

Well, you should really stop doing that—or at least start spelling it correctly. 

The actual saying, according to a tweet from Merriam-Webster, is actually “just deserts.”

“'Just deserts': when one gets the punishment one deserves,” the dictionary publisher tweeted alongside a link to an article that delves into the origins of the phrase. “'Just desserts': a child's dream dinner.”

I don’t know why I find this so disturbing. I mean, getting “just” cookies and ice cream sounds a hell of a lot more like a reward than a punishment. But why isn’t it spelled like it sounds?!

It looks like I’m not alone: Quite a few social media users were also shocked by Merriam-Webster’s tweet.

Let’s break this down, because there’s a lot to process here: 

  • A “dessert”(des-sert) is a sweet course or dish usually served at the end of a meal.
  • “Desert” (des-ert) usually refers to arid land with usually sparse vegetation, an area of water apparently devoid of life, or a desolate or forbidding area. 
  • “Just deserts” is a saying that means “the punishment that one deserves.” Though the second word in this phrase looks like “deserts,” it’s pronounced like “desserts.” You still with me?
  • The saying has nothing to do with the geography-related definition of “desert.” There’s actually a second, less popular definition of the word: The noun can sometimes mean “deserved reward or punishment” (usually used in plural), “the quality or fact of meriting reward or punishment,” or “excellence, worth.”
  • This uncommon definition of “deserts” is actually older than the word “desserts,” which refers to the food you eat to satisfy your sweet tooth. People have been using “desert” to refer to a punishment since the mid-1500s, while the first use of “dessert” was recorded around 1600.

WHEW. That’s a lot of learnin’ for one day, but we got through it together! Now let’s all reward ourselves by whipping up one of our favorite dessert recipes of all time. 

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