‘Just deserts’: Why you’ve always spelled it wrong

‘Just deserts’: Why you’ve always spelled it wrong

It’s spelled “just deserts.” Not “desserts.”

One “s.” Really.

fixit-covers-FINAL-desertsSo why did so many smart people who saw the cover to the right as part of the upcoming “Fix It! Grammar” textbooks think it was wrong?

Because we’re dealing with three different words, spelled similarly or even identically, and with the only difference in pronunciation being the emphasis. But all three come from different etymological directions and with different meanings.

Let’s take them one at a time:

Dessert /dez-ZERT/

By far the yummiest word on this list, dessert comes from the Middle French desservir, meaning to clear the table. The servir part is the root word for serve. So, dessert is the last meal you are served at a meal.

Desert /DEZ-zert/ or /dez-ZERT/

Put the emphasis on the first syllable, and it’s the arid and usually sandy land. If the emphasis is on the second syllable, we’re talking about the act of leaving a place where you would have been of help. Thus: The soldier deserted his desert post.

Both definitions come from the same root word: serere means to join together. To desert means you’re no longer together with a place or a group of people, and a desert is no longer joined to signs of visible life.

Desert /dez-ZERT/

Finally, we arrive at the third meaning, which has fallen out of general use, except for its being preserved in the phrase “just deserts.” The meaning is not a meal, nor is it to leave one’s place. Instead, it means “the quality or fact of meriting reward or punishment.” The root is the Anglo-French deservir, the same as our modern English word deserve. So, for the same reason deserve has only one “s,” desert in the phrase “just deserts” also has one “s.”

“Desert” is not the only otherwise-obsolete word that is preserved for us in the 21st century. Check out these top 12 words that are still in use, only because of a turn of phrase.

Sources: Merriam-Webster, Snopes

Photos via Flickr by JettaJet and Aschevogal

Four common locator map errors that make cartographers cringe

Four common locator map errors that make cartographers cringe

Costco-mapHaving someone design a small, simplified map for your customers makes a lot of sense for new businesses. Your location is so new, it’s not in the phone book, in Google Maps or in GPS systems. If you’re a big enough business like Costco, your street might even be brand new.

But I’ve seen enough of these little maps to detect a pattern of small errors that creep their way in. Evidently, good designers are rarely good map editors.

You can fight four kinds of map mishaps by watching for these common errors:

Mislabeled streets

Here is a map from a flyer for the new Costco in Fort Wayne. But Interstate 69 is completely mislabeled as “Lincoln Highway.” Everyone in Fort Wayne knows I-69 was never Lincoln Highway, and, considering its history, Lincoln Highway was never even a four-lane freeway.

If you are tasked with designing a map for an unfamiliar area, consider contracting with someone in that town who can check for obvious errors such as this. You don’t want to look like some out-of-town carpetbagger and don’t know what you’re doing, do you?

Imprecise drawings

The map says Costco’s access road, Value Drive, runs to the west of the store. True enough. But there’s another, better access road from Progress Drive directly to the south of the store. It’s not on the map at all.

Designers, please note how this adds confusion to the shopper trying to drive to your location for the first time. Be as precise as possible when locating entrances and major roads.

Incorrect shields

69-30The shape used for the Interstate 69 shield on the Costco map is incorrect. That six-pointed shape is used for U.S. routes, not interstates. Interstate shields are the red-white-and-blue four-pointed shields. Of course, if color is not available, a one-color shield is acceptable.

If you are designing a map, look through your font of cartography dingbats and find the different shields. If the font is any good at all, both will be represented.

Out-of-date route numbers

Thankfully, this error isn’t found in the Costco map. But it’s extremely common. Fort Wayne and other cities of its size and larger often have built bypasses over the years to carry U.S. and state routes. Local residents often still use those route numbers colloquially, though, which adds to the confusion.

In Fort Wayne, U.S. 33, 30, and 24, and Indiana routes 37 and 14, no longer venture inside the “loop” created by I-69 and I-469. U.S. 27 and Indiana 930 are the only official route numbers that cross the interior of Fort Wayne.

And one bonus point for online:

Non-updated web sites

Even now, with the Fort Wane Costco ready to open in a few days, it’s still not listed in any way on the Costco.com web site.

Study these points well — or ask a map nerd like myself — to make sure that your locator map ends up pretty and precise.