Dessert is the sweet course eaten at the end of a meal. What’s your favourite? I’m an absolute sucker for lemon meringue pie, but I also love a creamy lemon cheesecake.
A dessert wine is, similarly, sweet and intended to be enjoyed after a meal.
The key thing to remember is that this is the only meaning for this spelling.
Fun fact: ‘desserts’ is ‘stressed’ spelt backwards, and an anagram of ‘de-stress’. I don’t know about you, but I do not believe that can be a coincidence.
The word ‘desert’ is used when someone gets what they deserve, and it is said they have “got their just deserts”. It is usually used in a punitive way – ‘getting your just desert’ is generally not considered to be a pleasant experience.
Because this is a “thing” that happens, this use of the word is also a noun.
Fun fact: this is a phrase that came to us from French via Shakespeare, who used it in Sonnet 72, albeit in a more positive way than is usually done. So anyone using the word ‘desert’ in this way is using Shakespeare’s language without even realising it.
The word ‘desert’ can also mean abandoning or running away from a place. A soldier who goes AWOL is said to desert their post, while rats are said to ‘desert a sinking ship’ as a metaphor for people disowning or abandoning a place, person or situation that has become painful, awkward or insupportable.
When we say a place is deserted, it does not mean it looks like a desert. It means that there are no people around – everyone has departed.
Finally, a desert is a place that doesn’t get much rain, and is quite barren as a result.
This is the only meaning that sees ‘desert’ pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable:dez-ert
This makes it a homonym, not a homophone.
Because it’s a place, this is also a noun.
Fun fact: while the Sahara Desert is hot and sandy, Antarctica is the world’s largest cold desert.
You can use a sentence to help you remember the three different words that share this spelling. Saying it aloud will help you remember which is which. Example: The soldier got his just deserts for deserting his post in the hot desert.
Today I received an email which included the line, “It doesn’t matter who’s responsibility it is…”
Written by a professional who should know better, it was ironic that it was me, and not them, doing a massive facepalm.
This incorrect use of the homophone “who’s” instead of “whose” is a common error, but that doesn’t make it excusable.
The apostrophe in “who’s” signals that it is a contraction— a shortening of two words into one, so that “who is” becomes “who’s”. Alternatively, it can also be a contraction of “who has”. You can tell which one it is by determining if the sentence is in past or present tense,
Examples: That’s the boy who’s a really good actor. Who’s in charge around here? Who’s been eating my porridge?
‘Whose’ is a pronoun of ownership.
Examples: This is the farmer whose cows ate all my corn. Whose car is that?
Once you know the difference, it’s fairly straightforward. That means there is absolutely no excuse for getting them wrong, even if they do sound the same when spoken.
Fun fact: “it’s” and “its” work exactly the same way.
A mistake frequently made in writing is to say that someone “did not waiver” in their faith, or from a decision they had made. What they really mean is that the person in question did not waver.
Once again, it is a failure to choose between differently spelled homophones that is the problem here.
Waiver: the renunciation or surrendering of ownership, a right or a claim Example: The council decided to waive the annual fee for dog registration. The waiver resulted in more households registering their pets.
Waver: to hesitate or falter, or to flicker, quiver or tremble. Examples: Her feelings for him wavered between passionate love and indifference. He did not waver in his support for the mayor, who was a woman of integrity. The flame of the candle wavered in the gentle breeze.
At least when one waves at the waves, the spelling is the same so you can’t get it wrong!
I get really annoyed when I see people writing about peaking someone’s interest.
A mountain is peaked. A cap can be peaked. People can even look peaked: in this sense, it means they are pale. A career can peak. In fact, someone’s interest in something can peak, right before it declines again.
While they sound the same, the correct term for having caused intense interest or curiosity, is piqued.
To pique someone’s interest is to heighten or arouse it. In other words, it is to stimulate their curiosity or attention.
A fit of pique is an episode of annoyance or irritation – such as might happen, for example, if someone’s negative emotions are piqued.
A related word is piquant, which means provocative, tantalising, spicy or tangy. Food that excites the taste buds or a story that excites the imagination can both be described as piquant.
The other homophone is peeked. This is the past tense of peek: to take a quick look, or a sneaky one.
So… now that I’ve piqued your interest with my fit of pique, and you’ve peeked at my post… I’m sure your interest has long since peaked.
I’ve read a couple of different posts and even in a couple of books recently about people “pouring over” documents or books.
I wondered at first if this was one of those things Americans do with words that nobody else does, but I checked, and it’s not. It’s simply an error caused by confusion by words that sound the same even though they are spelt differently and mean completely different things.
What the people in question should be doing is poring over their books. To pore over books or documents is to be completely absorbed in what one is reading or studying. It suggests thoughtful application and concentration. The gerund is poring.
To pour over books is just going to make a mess, and probably ruin them completely. It’s really not advisable.