Which is correct when referring to the punishment gotten by an evil-doer: just deserts or just desserts?

Are both acceptable due to common usage (see buck naked / butt naked and strait-laced / straight-laced)?

  • Oh I see, I guess both are acceptable. – Jamie May 23 '11 at 22:49
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    "My favorite people are the people of the dessert," said Lawrence as he picked up his fork. – MT_Head May 23 '11 at 23:57
  • @Jasper, if it's hard to remember ... "deserts" is essentially the same word as "deserves," the "thing you deserve." ("He deserves punishment.) It's just the same word from the same root.) Anyway, it's easy to remember that "deserves" has only one s. Cheers! – Fattie Jul 12 '11 at 8:09
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    Is this an eggcorn or a malapropism? I'm having trouble deciding... – beatgammit Sep 27 '11 at 5:44

"Just deserts" refer to the consequences that are deserved. However, "desserts" refer to a part of a meal. Changing the spelling of the word in this case changes the meaning entirely, unlike the examples above.

Therefore, "just deserts" is deserved consequences and "just desserts"(there is no such phrase) refers to a deserved refreshment after a meal.

  • That's nasty. ;) – compman May 24 '11 at 0:02
  • What is? I'm not quite in the joke yet! ;) – Thursagen May 24 '11 at 11:09
  • There isn't one. It seems like "desssssserts" (however many 's's there are) in "just dessssssserts" should be more related to the tasty followup to meals than to barren land, yet it's spelled like the barren land. – compman May 24 '11 at 20:19
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    It seems to me that 'just desserts' is what kids would like for every meal; skip the main course, and have just desserts. – Jonathan Leffler Aug 23 '11 at 18:39
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    I expect that a lot of people can easily believe "desserts" is the proper spelling because the phrase commonly refers to what you get at the end of a long process, much like a meal. In some cases your final reward is sweet and delicious, in some cases it is a long-overdue punishment for your bad behavior. – Hellion Sep 26 '11 at 16:42

On my NOAD, the third meaning of "desert" is this one:

desert |diˈzərt|
noun (usu. deserts)
A person's worthiness or entitlement to reward or punishment: "the penal system fails to punish offenders in accordance with their deserts."

Then it gives one entry in the Phraseology section:

get (or receive) one's just deserts:
receive the appropriate reward or (more usually) punishment for one's actions: "those who caused great torment to others rarely got their just deserts."

Finally, the etymology:

Middle English: via Old French from deservir ‘serve well’ (-> deserve ).

There is also an entry on the OALD.


The problem here is that in the phrase "just deserts", the word is pronounced identically to "desserts". The word "deserts" isn't actually all that commonly used outside of this idiom, so most people think that spelling refers only to a geographic zone receiving minimal rainfall (e.g. Sahara desert). "Just Desserts" is simply a spelling error, unless it is being used as the name of a bistro specializing in after-dinner snacks.

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    Only if you're a linguist. A grammarian wouldn't break the rules that way. Dessert comes after dinner. – Chris Cudmore May 25 '11 at 20:51
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    @chris: Life's uncertain. Eat dessert first. – Marthaª Sep 26 '11 at 15:37
  • Deserts is never pronounced identically to desserts in my idiolect at least. Apart from the unpredictable difference in stress, the spellings are as predictable as can be expected: deserts is /dɨˡzərts/, while desserts is /dɨˡsərts/. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 12 '16 at 20:24

The correct phrase is just deserts.

According to Wiktionary,


just deserts (plural only)

(idiomatic) A punishment or reward that is considered to be what the recipient deserved.

It may appear that they're getting ahead by cheating, but they'll get their just deserts in the end.

Usage notes

Deserts here is the plural of desert, meaning "that which one deserves". It is rarely used with this meaning outside this phrase.

The spelling just desserts is commonly seen but is incorrect. The misspelling is occasionally used deliberately as a play on words in the names of restaurants etc.