[des-uh l-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee]


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 formsdes·ul·to·ri·ly, adverbdes·ul·to·ri·ness, noun

Synonyms for desultory

1. See haphazard. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for desultory

Contemporary Examples of desultory

Historical Examples of desultory

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

    Biography of a Slave

    Charles Thompson

  • The best as a novel it cannot be called, because the action is desultory in the extreme.

    Sir Walter Scott

    George Saintsbury

  • They did not even answer the desultory fire directed at the loopholes.

    A Set of Six

    Joseph Conrad

  • Troops may be exposed to desultory shelling during the day or night.

  • The interchange of musketry, eastward there, had a desultory, waiting sound.

    The Long Roll

    Mary Johnston

British Dictionary definitions for desultory



passing or jumping from one thing to another, esp in a fitful way; unmethodical; disconnected
occurring in a random or incidental way; haphazarda desultory thought
Derived Formsdesultorily, adverbdesultoriness, noun

Word Origin for desultory

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

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