1. abandoned; forsaken: the problems of deserted wives and children.
  2. untenanted: without inhabitants: a deserted village; a deserted farmhouse.
  3. unfrequented; lonely: The victim was lured to a deserted spot.

verb (used with object)

  1. to leave (a person, place, etc.) without intending to return, especially in violation of a duty, promise, or the like: He deserted his wife.
  2. (of military personnel) to leave or run away from (service, duty, etc.) with the intention of never returning: Terrified of the approaching battle, he deserted his post just before dawn.
  3. to fail (someone) at a time of need: None of his friends had deserted him.

verb (used without object)

  1. to forsake or leave one’s duty, obligations, etc. (sometimes followed by from, to, etc.): Many deserted during the food shortage.
  2. (of military personnel) to leave service, duty, etc., with no intention of returning: Troops were deserting to the enemy.


  1. a region that is devoid or almost devoid of vegetation, esp because of low rainfall
  2. an uncultivated uninhabited region
  3. a place which lacks some desirable feature or qualitya cultural desert
  4. (modifier) of, relating to, or like a desert; infertile or desolate


  1. (tr) to leave or abandon (a person, place, etc) without intending to return, esp in violation of a duty, promise, or obligation
  2. military to abscond from (a post or duty) with no intention of returning
  3. (tr) to fail (someone) in time of needhis good humour temporarily deserted him
  4. (tr) Scots law to give up or postpone (a case or charge)


  1. (often plural) something that is deserved or merited; just reward or punishment
  2. the state of deserving a reward or punishment
  3. virtue or merit

“to leave one’s duty,” late 14c., from Old French deserter (12c.) “leave,” literally “undo or sever connection,” from Late Latin desertare, frequentative of Latin deserere “to abandon, to leave, forsake, give up, leave in the lurch,” from de- “undo” (see de-) + serere “join together, put in a row” (see series). Military sense is first recorded 1640s. Related: Deserted; deserting.


“wasteland,” early 13c., from Old French desert (12c.) “desert, wilderness, wasteland; destruction, ruin,” from Late Latin desertum (source of Italian diserto, Old Provençal dezert, Spanish desierto), literally “thing abandoned” (used in Vulgate to translate “wilderness”), noun use of neuter past participle of Latin deserere “forsake” (see desert (v.)).

Sense of “waterless, treeless region” was in Middle English and gradually became the main meaning. Commonly spelled desart in 18c., which is not etymological but at least avoids confusion with the other two senses of the word. Classical Latin indicated this idea with deserta, plural of desertus.


“suitable reward or punishment” (now usually plural and with just), c.1300, from Old French deserte, noun use of past participle of deservir “be worthy to have,” ultimately from Latin deservire “serve well” (see deserve).

  1. A large, dry, barren region, usually having sandy or rocky soil and little or no vegetation. Water lost to evaporation and transpiration in a desert exceeds the amount of precipitation; most deserts average less than 25 cm (9.75 inches) of precipitation each year, concentrated in short local bursts. Deserts cover about one fifth of the Earth’s surface, with the principal warm deserts located mainly along the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, where warm, rising equatorial air masses that have already lost most of their moisture descend over the subtropical regions. Cool deserts are located at higher elevations in the temperate regions, often on the lee side of a barrier mountain range where the prevailing winds drop their moisture before crossing the range.

In addition to the idiom beginning with desert

  • desert a sinking ship

also see:

  • just deserts

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