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 desultory (audio) \ adverb
desultoriness \ ˈde-​səl-​ˌtȯr-​ē-​nəs How to pronounce desultory (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 The things the Yankees need correcting were on full display in a desultory sweep by the Tampa Bay Rays. Larry Fleisher, Forbes, "Brian Cashman’s Defense Of Manager Aaron Boone Reminds Us Of How Things Have Changed For The Yankees Since The 1980s," 20 Apr. 2021 The desultory setup is that the Earth has been bombarded by cosmic rays that impart superpowers to those with a tendency toward sociopathy. Jessica Kiang, Los Angeles Times, "Review: Melissa McCarthy is better than ‘Thunder Force.’ It’s time for her to realize it," 9 Apr. 2021 Unlike the desultory highway bridges built for decades in the city, this bridge will include esplanades on its north and south ends, integrating it into a ribbon of parks and paths on both sides of the Anacostia. Washington Post, "Washington is a city of great bridges and terrible bridges. These are their stories.," 1 Apr. 2021 If the desultory Minnesota Timberwolves wind up with one of the top three lottery picks, the Warriors will see that selection conveyed to 2022, unprotected but requiring an agonizingly long wait. Bruce Jenkins, San Francisco Chronicle, "Warriors could be draft day darlings, or they could be left empty handed," 9 Feb. 2021 This was, in a sense, its own kind of ideology — one that the desultory handful of militiamen on the street shared with the many factions of the Boogaloo, with the mob at the U.S. Capitol, with the outgoing president of the United States. New York Times, "How Armed Protests Are Creating a New Kind of Politics," 26 Jan. 2021 As with the alternating instrumental performances by the Folger Consort musicians, the visuals are rather desultory. David L. Coddon, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Arts & Culture Newsletter: ‘Spittin’ Truth to Power’ at La Jolla Playhouse," 17 Dec. 2020 But this is no sycophantic story of Silicon Valley and its ideals — Wiener fillets the industry (and the men who run it) in this tell-all about her desultory stint in customer service at a Big Data company. Seija Rankin,, "The most millennial books of 2020," 15 Dec. 2020 Tony Pollard — used as a changeup to Ezekiel Elliott on his 103-yard day — bounced a run off the right side of the Dallas line, beyond Jalyn Holmes and a desultory tackle attempt from cornerback Chris Jones. Ben Goessling, Star Tribune, "Vikings winning streak ended when Dallas scores late for 31-28 victory," 23 Nov. 2020

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

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The first known use of desultory was in 1581

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Last Updated

30 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Desultory.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 May. 2021.

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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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Nglish: Translation of desultory for Spanish Speakers

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