Posted by Lewis on March 04, 2005
In Reply to: Desert island posted by gerry debenedetti on March 04, 2005
: why do people say, or literary references are made to a DESERT ISLAND when most likely they mean a DESERTED ISLAND, that is, an island with nobody on it. when they talk of this island, it always has a palm tree, at least, not a desert, but deserted.
I think you may be using an overly restrictive definition of 'desert' - what you would describe as a 'desert island' is a sand-bank. a 'deserted island' could either be an island that was at one time populated and then the population abandoned it or you mean an island with a 'desert' on it. however, a 'desert' has two appropriate usages coll. a hot dry sandy place with sparse vegetation or the geographers' technical definition being an arid place with meagre rainfall unable to support much, if any vegetation [ mil. is to leave a position without permission]
having no population does not make a place 'deserted' unless there was previously a population there - the appropriate word is 'desolate' or 'unpopulated' - contrarily, having a palm tree does not exclude the place being a desert [I think it may be simply that a place needs to have less than 10cm annual precipitation to be a 'desert'].
I'll get my burnoose...