Just Deserts & Just Desserts

How many of the following questions can you or your child answer correctly?

  1. Stephy was not surprised to find her pet unicorn in the middle of the [desert/dessert].

  2. "Getting lost is your just [deserts/desserts] for using Apple Maps instead of Google Maps like I told you to," Stephy chided the unicorn.

  3. "I will not [desert/dessert] you in your time of need," Stephy reassured the dehydrated unicorn.

  4. "I'm not hungry, so I will have just [deserts/desserts]. You can have my hamburger," Stephy said as she stuffed the Big Mac into the unicorn's mouth.

'Desert' and 'dessert' rank amongst the most commonly confused words, with question 4 tripping many a student. (This error usually manifests at the end of a composition, where the protagonist/antagonist receives the punishment he or she deserves.)

Let's sort out 'desert' and 'dessert' once and for all!

(a) Dessert (noun) Meaning: the sweet course eaten at the end of a meal

Pronunciation: /dɪˈzəːt/

(b) Desert (noun)

Meaning: A dry, waterless area of land devoid of vegetation

Pronunciation: /dɛzət/

(c) Desert (noun)

Meaning: Punishment that someone deserves

Pronunciation: /dɪˈzəːt/

(d) Desert (verb):

Meaning: To leave or abandon

Pronunciation: /dɪˈzəːt/

As you can see (or read from the phonetic transcription), when used in the context of appropriate punishment or abandon, 'desert' is pronounced just like 'dessert'. Hence the confusion...

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