Just deserts vs. just desserts

The expression meaning that which is deserved was originally just deserts. The phrase is the last refuge of an obsolete meaning of desert—namely, something that is deserved or merited. But because most modern English speakers are unfamiliar with that old sense of desert, the phrase is often understandably written just desserts.

Using just desserts is not a serious error, and it is much more common than just deserts in 21st-century texts. Some people still consider it wrong, however. Whether to pay this any heed is for each of us to decide for ourselves.


Just desserts

Thanks for giving some Democrats their just desserts””most of the 16 blue dogs that voted against extending unemployment benefits, in the name of fiscal responsibility, are now jobless. [Global Nation Inquirer]

Jack Conways’s Aqua Buddha ad will go down as one of the dumbest of the year, which is a case of just desserts given its nastiness. [WSJ Blogs]

In some cases, this leads to just desserts scenarios, as when Facebook refused to play ball with Apple’s new Ping social network for iTunes users. [National Review Online]

Just deserts

Indeed, the bizarre ways in which key villains get their just deserts gives The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest its offbeat sense of satisfying closure. [Syracuse New Times]

If people don’t get their just deserts in life, what’s the point even bothering to do the right thing in the first place? [Telegraph]

If Kim Kardashian ever wanted to hand Reggie Bush his just deserts, well… Ta-da! [E! Online]

17 thoughts on “Just deserts vs. just desserts”

  1. I laughed when I saw the title, wondering who would seriously think the phrase was “just deserts.” Whoops. Interesting root, though!

    From what Bella’s saying, even though it’s spelled “desert,” it’s still pronounced like “dessert” is?

    • Surely it is, and that would be where the misunderstanding, and use of “desserts” in the phrase, came from.

    • If you eat it you would dezert. If you’re walking on it you would say dez-zert. Without using all those little marks to show pronunciation you would say the apple pie one, with the letter “z” being part of the second syllable and also with the second syllable getting more emphasis.

      With the Gobi “Dezzert” you would accent the first syllable and the “z”. the second syllable would also have the “z” pronounced with the voice dropping slightly. Also this word would be spoken slightly longer. Have I confused you–I truly hope not. I was an English major in college with an emphasis on etymology.

  2. Just to be pedantic, I would argue that it is incorrect to write, “for each of us to decide for ourselves.” “Each” and “ourselves” don’t agree. I know it’s become politically incorrect to use the masculine “himself” in such situations, but I still think it makes more grammatical sense.

    • 1) Alas, you are in error; “ourselves” is perfectly appropriate and has been used successfully for hundreds of years, similar to the singular indefinite pronoun ‘they.’

      2) The term ‘politically incorrect’ is argumentative and should be avoided.

      3) Your perception of whether something ‘makes grammatical sense’ may be based simply on familiarity.

      4) The phrase ‘Just to be pedantic’ is best omitted since it is fairly obvious that you are *trying* to be pedantic (which may also be inaccurate since you are flaunting incorrect knowledge).

        • How exactly is Mr. Jefe ill-informed? Number 1 is based on opinion. Languages evolve and change over time. While Yankeedave’s statement was 100% accurate decades ago, it’s not so black and white now. Number 2 and 4 are certainly true, and 3 is possible, but not necessary with the other three points.

    • More germane than the gender choice is the the number error, which you ignore. “Each” takes a singular object. “… for each of us to decide for herself.” is the proper construction. Or for himself, if he prefers.

    • Just came upon this subject through a perception of someone’s use of the double ‘s’ version and couldn’t help questioning (then questing for) modern use (I must be from another era) but must respond to your plaint regarding the use of that quote, “for each of us to decide for ourselves.”
      I would think the best way to correctly phrase it might be,

      “for each to decide for oneself”?

      I think the confusion may come from the inclusion of the word “us” making the erroneous point as plural when it is intended for the singular “each”. Does this make sense to you or anyone else who may eventually read this?

      All the same, speech vs. writ can make a larger than necessary mountain from the anthill it might have been.

      But Samuel Clemens would approve, no?


      • “I would think the best way to correctly phrase it might be, …”

        You “would think” … if … what? Perhaps you meant to write “I think the best way to correctly phrase it might be, …”?

    • I agree with what you say, however it is possible the phrase may be implying, “for each ‘one’ of us…” English is soooo stupid at times. By the by, thanks for using “pedantic” I finally actually looked it up in my O.E.D.

    • Each and ourselves doesn’t have to agree in that the operative words are “us” and “ourselves”.

  3. ‘Just desserts’ is a play on words which has become popular through appropriateness, because it brings together the original meaning of the phrase with the notion of ‘the thing which happens at the end’. I would look askance at the original or the playful use in anything but humorous writing. It is at best a cliché, and at worst a reflection of slightly pompous, sloppy thinking when used in serious text. If I saw it in a document I was editing, I would replace it with something more exact.

Comments are closed.