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 But the at-home action-movie experience is by its very nature desultory. Stephanie Zacharek, Time, "Chris Hemsworth's Extraction Is Way less Fun Than It Should Be," 24 Apr. 2020 But now, with Gaza ruled by Hamas, the West Bank Fatah leadership desultory, and the greater Arab world mired in dysfunction and cooperating with Israel against Iran, the Palestinian question has lost urgency. Ethan Bronner, The New York Review of Books, "Stuck," 12 Mar. 2020 After a desultory romantic weekend with Sam at a hot-springs resort, the narrator comes to see certain tendencies in him that are no less programmatic than those of blots. Willing Davidson, The New Yorker, "Kate Folk on Discerning Reality on the Internet," 16 Mar. 2020 Later, as Carol smokes and makes a desultory attempt at cooking, Anna (Celeste Arias) appears to her left, in a separate hospital scene. Alexis Soloski, New York Times, "Review: In ‘Anatomy of a Suicide,’ Pain in Triplicate," 18 Feb. 2020 After the game Randy Wittman and Mike Woodson are sitting at the podium where current IU coach Archie Miller had been moments earlier, trying to make sense of another desultory loss in a season that is getting away from the Hoosiers. Gregg Doyel, Indianapolis Star, "Doyel: Bob Knight returns to Assembly Hall to tears, cheers as years of anger fade away," 8 Feb. 2020 Trump gave a desultory speech and shuffled between meetings with leaders from Britain, India and Iraq while privately consulting with aides about his next move against the House., "Unbowed, Trump sees fight as ‘a positive for me’ - The Boston Globe," 25 Sep. 2019 The strain Texas felt heading into Game 9 was only amplified by a desultory first half in which the visitor did just about everything better. Nick Moyle,, "Texas defense shows signs of life in win over No. 16 Kansas State," 9 Nov. 2019 The team’s successes have been hard-fought, Formiga said, its wins coming despite a lack of grass-roots resources and a desultory commitment to training and facilities for women in Brazil. Sarah Lyall, New York Times, "Formiga Isn’t Going Anywhere," 13 June 2019

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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Time Traveler for desultory

Time Traveler

The first known use of desultory was in 1581

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Last Updated

9 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Desultory.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for desultory


How to pronounce desultory (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of desultory

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

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Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for desultory

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with desultory

Spanish Central: Translation of desultory

Nglish: Translation of desultory for Spanish Speakers

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