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des·ert 1 (dĕzərt)
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n.
1. A barren or desolate area, especially:
a. A dry, often sandy region of little rainfall, extreme temperatures, and sparse vegetation.
b. A region of permanent cold that is largely or entirely devoid of life.
c. An apparently lifeless area of water.
2. An empty or forsaken place; a wasteland: a cultural desert.
3. Archaic A wild and uninhabited region.
adj.
1. Of, relating to, characteristic of, or inhabiting a desert: desert fauna.
2. Wild and uninhabited: a desert island.

[Middle English, from Old French, from Late Latin dēsertum, from neuter past participle of dēserere, to desert; see DESERT3.]
(click for a larger image)
desert1
top: Sahara desert erg
Ubari, Libya
bottom: Antarctic desert
Ross Island, Antarctica
(click for a larger image)
desert1

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 
de·sert 2 (dĭ-zûrt)
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n.
1. often deserts Something that is deserved or merited, especially a punishment: They got their just deserts when the scheme was finally uncovered.
2. The state or fact of deserving reward or punishment.

[Middle English, from Old French deserte, from feminine past participle of deservir, to deserve; see DESERVE.]

Word History: When Shakespeare says in Sonnet 72, "Unless you would devise some virtuous lie, / To do more for me than mine own desert," he is using the word desert in the sense of "worthiness; merit," a word perhaps most familiar to us in the plural, meaning "something that is deserved," as in the phrase just deserts. This word goes back to the Latin word dēservīre, "to devote oneself to the service of," which in Vulgar Latin came to mean "to merit by service." Dēservīre is made up of dē-, meaning "thoroughly," and servīre, "to serve." Knowing this, we can distinguish this desert from desert, "a wasteland," and desert, "to abandon," both of which go back to Latin dēserere, "to forsake, leave uninhabited," which is made up of dē-, expressing the notion of undoing, and the verb serere, "to link together." We can also distinguish all three deserts from dessert, "a sweet course at the end of a meal," which is from the French word desservir, "to clear the table." Desservir is made up of des-, expressing the notion of reversal, and servir (from Latin servīre), "to serve," hence, "to unserve" or "to clear the table."

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 
de·sert 3 (dĭ-zûrt)
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v. de·sert·ed, de·sert·ing, de·serts
v.tr.
1. To leave empty or alone; abandon.
2. To withdraw from, especially in spite of a responsibility or duty; forsake: deserted her friend in a time of need.
3. To abandon (a military post, for example) in violation of orders or an oath.
v.intr.
To forsake one's duty or post, especially to be absent without leave from the armed forces with no intention of returning.

[French déserter, from Late Latin dēsertāre, frequentative of Latin dēserere, to abandon : dē-, de- + serere, to join; see ser-2 in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]

de·serter n.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 

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