General English


  • noun an area of land with very little rainfall, arid soil and little or no vegetation


  • noun a large area of dry often sandy country


  • verb to leave a family or spouse


  • noun a region where there is very little water and therefore hardly any life or vegetation
  • verb to leave a military unit without permission

Origin & History of “desert”

English has three distinct words desert, which come from two separate sources. Desert ‘what one deserves’ (13th c.) (now usually used in the plural) is related, as its meaning suggests, to the verb deserve. It comes from Old French desert or deserte, which were formed from the past participle of deservir ‘deserve’. (Dessert ‘sweet course’ (17th c.) is its first cousin, coming from French desservir ‘clear the table’ – literally ‘unserve’ – a compound verb formed, like deserve, from the verb serve but with the prefix dis- rather than de-.)

The noun desert ‘barren region’ (13th c.) and the verb desert ‘abandon’ (15th c.) both come ultimately from dēsertus, the past participle of Latin dēserere ‘abandon’. this was a compound verb formed from the prefix - denoting reversal and serere ‘join’ (a derivative of which gave English ‘serried ranks’).