Definition of desultory
- a dragged-out ordeal of … desultory shopping
- —Herman Wouk
- desultory comments
- a desultory fifth place finish
- a desultory wine
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a desultory search for something of interest on TV
a desultory discussion about the news of the day
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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.
: not having a plan or purpose
: done without serious effort
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