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[des-uh l-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee] /ˈdɛs əlˌtɔr i, -ˌtoʊr i/
lacking in consistency, constancy, or visible order, disconnected; fitful:
desultory conversation.
digressing from or unconnected with the main subject; random:
a desultory remark.
Origin of desultory
1575-85; < Latin dēsultōrius pertaining to a dēsultor (a circus rider who jumps from one horse to another), equivalent to dēsul-, variant stem of dēsilīre to jump down (dē- de- + -silīre, combining form of salīre to leap) + -tōrius -tory1
Related forms
desultorily, adverb
desultoriness, noun
1. See haphazard. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for desultory
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • And after a few minutes of desultory conversation, the rector left.

  • After some desultory conversation I told him who I was and how I came to be there.

    Biography of a Slave Charles Thompson
  • In the desultory history of this question, two facts have been stated requiring distinct proof.

    The Felon's Track Michael Doheny
  • The best as a novel it cannot be called, because the action is desultory in the extreme.

    Sir Walter Scott George Saintsbury
  • Evening closed with a deal of desultory gunfire, which continued spasmodically all night.

    The Leicestershires beyond Baghdad Edward John Thompson
British Dictionary definitions for desultory


/ˈdɛsəltərɪ; -trɪ/
passing or jumping from one thing to another, esp in a fitful way; unmethodical; disconnected
occurring in a random or incidental way; haphazard: a desultory thought
Derived Forms
desultorily, adverb
desultoriness, noun
Word Origin
C16: from Latin dēsultōrius, relating to one who vaults or jumps, hence superficial, from dēsilīre to jump down, from de- + salīre to jump
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Contemporary definitions for desultory

disappointing in quality or performance

Word Origin

Latin de- + salire 'to leap''s 21st Century Lexicon
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Word Origin and History for desultory

1580s, "skipping about," from Latin desultorius "hasty, casual, superficial," adjective form of desultor (n.) "a rider in the circus who jumps from one horse to another while they are in gallop," from desul-, stem of desilire "jump down," from de- "down" (see de-) + salire "to jump, leap" (see salient (adj.)). Sense of "irregular, without aim or method" is c.1740. Related: Desultorily; desultoriness.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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