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From Latin dēsultōrius (hasty, casual, superficial), from dēsultor (a circus rider who jumped from one galloping horse to another), from dēsiliō (jump down), from (down) + saliō (jump, leap).[1]


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈdɛs.əl.t(ə).ɹi/, /ˈdɛz.əl.t(ə).ɹi/
  • (US) IPA(key): /ˈdɛs.əlˌtɔɹ.i/, /ˈdɛz.əlˌtɔɹ.i/
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desultory (comparative more desultory, superlative most desultory)

  1. Jumping, or passing, from one thing or subject to another, without order, planning, or rational connection; lacking logical sequence.
    Synonyms: disconnected, unmethodical, aimless, quodlibetic, (in conversation) quodlibetical
    He wandered round, cleaning up in a desultory way.
    I teach a class of desultory minds.
    • 1849 May – 1850 November, Charles Dickens, chapter 25, in The Personal History of David Copperfield, London: Bradbury & Evans, [], published 1850, →OCLC:
      To mend the matter, Hamlet's aunt had the family failing of indulging in soliloquy, and held forth in a desultory manner, by herself, on every topic that was introduced.
    • 2005, Tony Judt, “The Coming of the Cold War”, in Postwar: A history of Europe since 1945, London: Vintage Books, published 2010, →ISBN:
      The Benelux Customs Union came into effect on January 1st 1948, and there followed desultory conversations between the Benelux countries, France and Italy over projects to extend such cooperation across a larger space.
    • 2010, Jennifer Egan, “You (Plural)”, in A Visit from the Goon Squad:
      ‘Your desultory twenties,’ my mother calls my lost time, trying to make it sound reasonable and fun, but it started before I was twenty and lasted much longer.
  2. Out of course; by the way; not connected with the subject.
    I made a desultory remark while I was talking to my friend.
    She made a desultory attempt at conversation.
  3. Disappointing in performance or progress.
  4. (obsolete) Leaping, skipping or flitting about, generally in a random or unsteady manner.

Derived terms





  1. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2024) “desultory”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.

Further reading