des·​ul·​to·​ry | \ˈde-səl-ˌtȯr-ē, -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 \ adverb
desultoriness \ ˈde-​səl-​ˌtȯr-​ē-​nəs \ 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

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 Harvey’s Mets obit, courtesy of The Ringer, included this: His performance in recent years — a terrible 2016, an abysmal 2017, and a desultory 2018 — has seemed a fait accompli. Paul Daugherty,, "Doc: Is who the Reds have now better than who they've dumped?," 8 May 2018 The author, who currently lives in Brooklyn, acknowledges in his introduction that his personal contact with field sports is limited to a boyhood enthusiasm for hunting-adventure stories and some desultory casting for sunfish in small urban lakes. Stephen Budiansky, WSJ, "‘The Fair Chase’ Review: The Sportsman’s Legacy," 26 Apr. 2018 Gone, too, is the massive fountain that, for much of the year, had the desultory look of an empty, slightly moldy, swimming pool. Inga Saffron,, "Love Park was supposed to be the People's Park. How did it end up as a granite Sahara?," 26 Apr. 2018 Indeed, that event a year and a half ago is sparking criticism of the FAA’s and the airline industry’s apparently desultory response to the problem of metal fatigue. Barbara Peterson, Popular Mechanics, "Airlines Race To Inspect the Engine That Went Wrong on Southwest Flight 1380," 24 Apr. 2018 Ten years and tens of thousands of deaths later, with the Taliban resurgent, U.S. officials initiated a series of desultory peace talks that petered out in 2012. Greg Jaffe, Washington Post, "A Dubai shopping trip and a missed chance to capture the head of the Taliban," 24 Mar. 2018 The fourth-year player also vowed to be a better teammate, saying that learned from his desultory attitude at the start of the series. Ben Steele, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Bucks' Jabari Parker breaks out of funk with 17 points in Game 3 against Celtics," 21 Apr. 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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Time Traveler for desultory

The first known use of desultory was in 1581

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English Language Learners Definition of desultory

: not having a plan or purpose

: done without serious effort

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