Definition of desultory in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈdesəlˌtôrē/


1Lacking a plan, purpose, or enthusiasm: a few people were left, dancing in a desultory fashion
More example sentences
  • Some putter along in a slightly languid and desultory fashion.
  • The rather desultory attempts to bring ‘democracy’ to post-Taliban Afghanistan speak volumes.
  • Every ten to fifteen years, the earth wobbles in a desultory fashion somewhere in these islands and a roof slate or two drops off.
casual, cursory, superficial, token, perfunctory, half-hearted, lukewarm;
random, aimless, erratic, unmethodical, unsystematic, chaotic, inconsistent, irregular, intermittent, sporadic, fitful
1.1(Of conversation or speech) going constantly from one subject to another in a halfhearted way; unfocused: the desultory conversation faded
More example sentences
  • Two dusky stable hands were leading a pair of thoroughbred around the ‘cooling rings’ of adjoining stables at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and engaging in desultory conversation.
  • As we near the end of the trail, Thomsen and I have a desultory conversation about how the Sierra are changing: more traffic, more big houses, more kids concerned only with what's on sale at the mall.
  • In the lounge room of the Sydney apartment, the desultory conversation suggests the housemates might as well be on different planets.
1.2Occurring randomly or occasionally: desultory passengers were appearing
More example sentences
  • Unfortunately, the propagation of another leg to the equity bubble, however rapid the money pumping, will still require that earnings show at least the occasional desultory promise of improvement.
  • The arrivals terminal has its own rhythm: the early desultory pulses of the automatic door, then the great disgorge, and finally, as the crowd wilts away, the trickle of presumably more complicated arrivals.
  • While the Joes concentrate their fire and quickly eliminate Cobra's heavy weapons, the Cobra forces offer little more than a token resistance and a few seconds of desultory return fire.



Pronunciation: /ˈdesəlˌtôrəlē/
Example sentences
  • In the 1948 war that followed the establishment of Israel, and in the Six Day War of 1967, Iraq fought somewhat desultorily against Israel's existence.
  • I have been off sick with decidedly dodgy tummy and jelly-like legs, and have lain around the house being languid, playing a small selection of CDs repeatedly and desultorily surfing the interwebnet.
  • Valuable blogging time…… has been sacrificed to the arduous pursuit of lying in the garden soaking up the sun whilst gently quaffing on wine and desultorily reading a book.


Pronunciation: /ˈdesəlˌtôrēnəs/
Example sentences
  • But this apparent desultoriness has been necessary, for I knew not for what branch of science I should eventually have to declare myself.
  • Halsey, a young American who idolized the great explorers of the past, chose to record his expedition in logbook style, with its inherent dangers of desultoriness and plodding.
  • As she never accused herself of desultoriness, it was to be presumed that she felt satisfied with the brief but vigorous efforts of her acute intelligence.


Late 16th century (also in the literal sense 'skipping around'): from Latin desultorius 'superficial' (literally 'relating to a vaulter'), from desultor 'vaulter', from the verb desilire.

  • Desultory ‘lacking purpose or enthusiasm’ also had the literal sense ‘skipping about’ in early use. The source is Latin desultorius ‘superficial’ (literally ‘relating to a vaulter’), from desultor ‘vaulter’, from desilire ‘to leap’.

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: des·ul·to·ry

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