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

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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.

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 For both Mofe and Rosa, the ambition to leave comes to seem desultory. Teju Cole, The New Yorker, 10 Aug. 2021 The winter holidays in 2019 were a round of obligatory parties, but subdued, desultory, dispirited by Washington standards. Sally Quinn, Washington Post, 17 May 2021 Until recently, Bezos had drawn considerable criticism for his desultory appetite for philanthropy. Belinda Luscombe, Time, 27 July 2021 The symphony of noisy New York, reduced for what felt like forever to a desultory hum, seems to be rising in volume every day now. Washington Post, 11 July 2021 At Turner Field, once known as Olympic Stadium, the Braves are playing a last, desultory season before moving to Cobb County. Dan Chapman, ajc, 26 July 2016 Viewed another way, no candidate in this perverse mayoral election has consistently led in the opinion polls—which this year have been desultory, even a little derelict. Tunku Varadarajan, WSJ, 11 June 2021 The company’s Lost Arrow Project, which produces tactical outerwear and protective equipment for the U.S. military on a contract basis, has attracted only desultory criticism. Andrea Chang, Los Angeles Times, 9 May 2021 The things the Yankees need correcting were on full display in a desultory sweep by the Tampa Bay Rays. Larry Fleisher, Forbes, 20 Apr. 2021

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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The first known use of desultory was in 1581

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Cite this Entry

“Desultory.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Oct. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of desultory

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

More from Merriam-Webster on desultory

Nglish: Translation of desultory for Spanish Speakers


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