A “Just Desert” is Not a Land of Righteous Sand, and a “Just Dessert” is a Rightly Portioned Cake with Ice Cream

Here’s a little-known trivia about the English language. I was reading a book on Political Philosophy when I encountered this:


The first thing that went through my head was: What does that mean?

For the rest of the chapter, the author continued to use the word, “desert,” but in ways that were so unusual to me. How is a desert (the one with sand) just in any sense?!

I was scratching my head, constantly trying to figure out what he meant. I had to re-read the section repeatedly, until it occurred to me that perhaps he meant: “dessert”?

Well, unfortunately, I wasn’t happy with the realisation because this unusual usage of “desert” made it so difficult for me to figure out what was going on with the chapter. I complained about this to a few friends. How is it possible that the author could have made such a consistent typo throughout the chapter? How did the editor not spot it?

Yet, isn’t it odd that if it were a consistent typo, the author or editor would have spotted and corrected it?

One of my friends became curious about this incident. He went out to investigate (on Google, of course… Keyboard Warriors, charge!!!), and we came to a very VERY surprising discovery: It’s not a mistake!

If you look at the dictionary for the definition of “desert,” one of the definitions you’ll find is this:

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

So actually, there isn’t such a thing as “just desserts,” unless you are talking specifically about portioning out the right size of cake and ice cream. It should really be “just deserts”!

But I guess so many of us have been using “just desserts” that it has now become the acceptable form in the English language.

Also, “desert” in “just desert” is pronounced differently from the sand type of “desert.”  It sounds like “dessert”, but instead of saying, “dis-seeeert” as you would for cakes and ice-cream, you pronounce it as: “dis-sert” (a very short ‘e’ sound on the second syllable).

So there you go. I learnt something new from this, have you? :)

The Challenge

Taxi drivers are, by far, some of the wisest people you can ever meet. Sure, some of them might be obnoxious. But many of them, with their age and experience from meeting a wide variety of people every single day, have lots of really good insights to share. That’s why I really enjoy chatting to them whenever I take a taxi.

A couple of months ago, a taxi driver challenged me to brush up on my Mandarin. Many just tell me how ashamed I should be for not being able to speak Mandarin well.

I told him that it’s too difficult a language to learn. In response, I got rebuked by him.

He said, “No matter how difficult something is, if you really want to learn, you’ll learn it anyway. I never knew English, but I learnt that and Thai just from my many years of driving this taxi. Don’t you dare tell me that it’s difficult to learn.”

Do I want to learn? Oh yes I sure do. And Cantonese too! My love for Chinese culture and the desire to immerse myself in it has been hampered for years because of the obstacle for language.

I don’t think I should procrastinate any further. I’ll be learning Chinese Philosophy soon, and this would really prepare me greatly.