• desert •
dê-zêrt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: Recompense, that which is deserved; comeuppance.
Notes: This word presents spelling problems since it is pronounced the same as dessert. It is spelled exactly like desert "barren land", though pronounced differently [de-zêrt]. Today's Good Word is an old noun from the verb deserve, not
desert. It has one adjective, desertful, that we rarely see or hear.
In Play: This word seems to be slipping away from the grasp of English vocabulary because we only hear it today in the idiomatic phrase just deserts: "We can only hope that the person who put the frog in the water cooler gets his or her just deserts." There are still positive uses for the singular of this word: "I think the woman Harry just married is due desert for his life of public service."
Word History: English seems to have borrowed this word from Old French deserte "merit, recompense", a noun use of past participle of deservir "be worthy to have". French inherited the word ultimately from Latin deservire "serve well" from de- "completely" + servire "to serve". Underlying servire we find PIE seruo- "to protect", which also went into the making of Greek heros "protector". The present participle of servir is servan(t)s "serving", which is visible in the English borrowing servant. This root also turned up in Latin servus "slave". We find it in Avestan haraiti "protects", but this seems to be the limit of the spread of the PIE word.
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