des·​ul·​to·​ry | \ ˈde-səl-ˌtȯr-ē How to pronounce desultory (audio) , -zəl-; di-ˈsəl-t(ə-)rē, -ˈzəl-\

Definition of desultory

1 : marked by lack of definite plan, regularity, or purpose a dragged-out ordeal of … desultory shopping— Herman Wouk
2 : not connected with the main subject desultory comments
3 : disappointing in progress, performance, or quality a desultory fifth place finish a desultory wine

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Other Words from desultory

desultorily \ ˌde-​səl-​ˈtȯr-​ə-​lē How to pronounce desultorily (audio) \ adverb
desultoriness \ ˈde-​səl-​ˌtȯr-​ē-​nəs How to pronounce desultoriness (audio) \ noun

Did You Know?

The Latin adjective desultorius, the parent of desultory, was used by the ancients to refer to a circus performer (called a desultor) whose trick was to leap from horse to horse without stopping. It makes sense, therefore, that someone or something desultory "jumps" from one thing to another. (Desultor and desultorius, by the way, are derived from the Latin verb salire, which means "to leap.") A desultory conversation leaps from one topic to another and doesn't have a distinct point or direction. A desultory student skips from one subject to another without applying serious effort to any one. A desultory comment is a digressive one that jumps away from the topic at hand. And a desultory performance is one resulting from an implied lack of steady, focused effort.

Examples of desultory in a Sentence

a desultory search for something of interest on TV a desultory discussion about the news of the day

Recent Examples on the Web

Lowry, once known as a hothead and a man who seemed destined to take a desultory path through the NBA, became the team’s conscience in this series. Bruce Jenkins,, "To win, Raptors had to stop Stephen Curry — and they did in the end," 13 June 2019 The government’s desultory effort to prosecute seven defendants has not yielded a single conviction. Sadanand Dhume, WSJ, "Pakistan, Stop Coddling Terrorists," 29 Nov. 2018 The first two games, desultory losses at Denver and Chicago, certainly validated the camp that feels the Seahawks’ era of dominance has ended. Larry Stone, The Seattle Times, "In win over Cowboys, Seahawks show they can thrive amid the Earl Thomas chaos," 24 Sep. 2018 The American workplace in 2018 is a mostly a desultory place, with corner offices replaced by picnic tables, and the two martini lunch jettisoned for the sad midday salad. Jason Gay, WSJ, "The Life-Changing Magic of Chicken Wings and Sports Betting," 13 Aug. 2018 But throughout my twenties and thirties the first week of April was dedicated to desultory wanderings across the American Southwest. Anne Slowey, Condé Nast Traveler, "Fear and Self-Loathing in the American Southwest," 25 July 2018 During a tenure as team president that was desultory in nearly every respect, this was Jackson’s single brilliant act. Michael Powell, New York Times, "David Fizdale Is Totally Going to Save the Knicks," 4 May 2018 The desultory end to weekend talks led by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and China’s top economic official, Vice Premier Liu He, revived worries Beijing and Washington are sliding again toward open conflict. Washington Post, "China: Smaller trade surplus, OK. But tech concessions? No.," 4 June 2018 But even modest improvements in millennial turnout could work wonders, given the large lean toward Democrats in that demographic (a net 27 points in the same Pew survey that showed desultory millennial interest in the election). Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, "The Democratic Wave May Depend on Millennials Becoming Unusually Motivated to Vote," 17 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'desultory.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of desultory

1581, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for desultory

Latin desultorius, literally, of a circus rider who leaps from horse to horse, from desilire to leap down, from de- + salire to leap — more at sally

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Statistics for desultory

Last Updated

21 Jun 2019

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Time Traveler for desultory

The first known use of desultory was in 1581

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More Definitions for desultory



English Language Learners Definition of desultory

: not having a plan or purpose
: done without serious effort

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More from Merriam-Webster on desultory

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with desultory

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for desultory

Spanish Central: Translation of desultory

Nglish: Translation of desultory for Spanish Speakers

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