Definition of desultory in US English:



  • 1Lacking a plan, purpose, or enthusiasm.

    ‘a few people were left, dancing in a desultory fashion’
    • ‘Before the workers entered the heritage conservation scene, there had been only desultory efforts at saving historical architecture and the urban environment in Australia.’
    • ‘Her recent mysterious suicide is the talk of Wisteria Lane, the upper-class street that's home to a clique of attractive, desultory wives and mothers whose secrets are far juicier than average.’
    • ‘So much for my thought that the Justice Department would mount a desultory investigation and then give up.’
    • ‘Some putter along in a slightly languid and desultory fashion.’
    • ‘The rather desultory attempts to bring ‘democracy’ to post-Taliban Afghanistan speak volumes.’
    • ‘In parts of Africa, especially the most remote rural areas, colonial rule had only a minimal direct economic effect, except for sometimes rather desultory attempts to impose taxes on people who had not previously used money.’
    • ‘Almost every time I shop for groceries, I throw something into the cart in a desultory fashion in homage to Mary Tyler Moore, who does this in the opening credits.’
    • ‘His perception was that the desultory and undisciplined Chinese people did not deserve a democratic system.’
    • ‘Slave patrols, rather than being desultory or inadequate, turn out to be one of the chief ways that the southern states enforced their peculiar institution.’
    • ‘Hitler's immense popularity and respect in the country gave him ultimate authority but he exercised it only in a desultory and general way - leaving most decisions and all administration to his subordinates.’
    • ‘Over the years, there have been some desultory attempts to turn Fungus into a film.’
    • ‘Every ten to fifteen years, the earth wobbles in a desultory fashion somewhere in these islands and a roof slate or two drops off.’
    • ‘The salad may have been a bit desultory and almost Parmesan-less, but the beautifully moist carpaccio of (as it turned out, virtually chilli-less) beef more than made up for it.’
    • ‘And some desultory clicking around Microsoft Office didn't see the power consumption get much above one watt.’
    • ‘In the mid 1990s desultory attempts were being made to revive this last variety, in the belief that it will add aromatic interest when blended with the Barbera grape.’
    • ‘I draft posted the entry with the intention of sprucing it up and making it cogent, but reading through it, I think the desultory, fragmented nature of the post reflects my rather uninterested attitude when watching this actual video.’
    • ‘After a few desultory job interviews, she discussed the idea with her husband and established an office in the spare bedroom, with an old wallpaper pasting table for a desk and banana boxes as filing cabinets.’
    • ‘After moving to California for my second postdoc, and making a desultory appraisal of the ice-cream situation, I was moved to buy my own ice-cream maker and churn out the burnt caramel myself.’
    • ‘The stroll looks innocuously aimless enough, random conversation and desultory gaits all firmly in place.’
    • ‘These prompt Abe to think about his own identity, his long-ignored Jewish heritage and even vague ideas of Christian conversion - possibilities he explores in a desultory way.’
    casual, half-hearted, lukewarm, cursory, superficial, token, perfunctory, passing, incidental, sketchy, haphazard, random, aimless, rambling, erratic, unmethodical, unsystematic, automatic, unthinking, capricious, mechanical, offhand, chaotic, inconsistent, irregular, intermittent, occasional, sporadic, inconstant, fitful
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    1. 1.1 (of conversation or speech) going constantly from one subject to another in a halfhearted way; unfocused.
      ‘the desultory conversation faded’
      • ‘Then with dawning horror you realise you're screwed - eye contact is made and you're doomed to desultory, banal small talk the whole way until you get into Waverley.’
      • ‘Some Islamist groups today claim to want to re-establish the post, but their discussions lack rigor, are desultory, and thus far have no wide appeal.’
      • ‘So, he's speaking with another man in a desultory fashion (nothing that seemed important, just killing time).’
      • ‘There was a halting, desultory conversation, and he never mentioned the script.’
      • ‘Conversation was desultory and difficult, centring mainly around Amarinth's unwillingness to devote enough of her time to homework.’
      • ‘Into this somewhat desultory discussion among historians a sociologist has now tossed a bombshell.’
      • ‘But officials have repeatedly postponed a second session as desultory talks have dragged on over the division of top Cabinet posts among Iraq's religious and ethnic groups.’
      • ‘There is desultory chitchat on the verandah as evening slides into pitch-dark night.’
      • ‘As our desultory, lacklustre conversation progressed, it became clear that he was expecting me to ‘pitch’ to him in some way.’
      • ‘They are too often reminiscent of desultory common-room conversation on those first nights at college, when no one knew anyone and everyone was defensive, posturing, or simply uninterested.’
      • ‘In the absence of accurate accounting, political debate over some of the most momentous issues of the age is proceeding in an empirical vacuum, and has become much more confused and desultory than it needs to be.’
      • ‘In the lounge room of the Sydney apartment, the desultory conversation suggests the housemates might as well be on different planets.’
      • ‘It seemed initially that the new Indian government wanted to accomplish what it had not succeeded in 30 years of desultory negotiations under the Shimla agreement.’
      • ‘I have also been having a desultory email discussion of some issues with moral philosopher Keith Burgess-Jackson lately.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘One is that the language is the language of human discourse, and is subject to the same redundancies and occasional verbiage that we all encounter in desultory conversation.’
      • ‘We don't want aimless acts any more than we want desultory negotiations.’
      • ‘Their desultory and often painfully facetious conversations are interspersed with picture-postcard vignettes in which presenter and guest savour the delights of holiday life in the capital.’
      • ‘The discussions are desultory and most MPs, barring a few, do not even come prepared with their facts and figures.’
    2. 1.2 Occurring randomly or occasionally.
      ‘desultory passengers were appearing’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Ayodhya has been subject to desultory and very limited archaeological investigations since the 19th century.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘By February, 900 miners had abandoned the strike; at the pit gates, handfuls of pickets made desultory shouts of ‘scab’ as the trickle of working miners became a flood.’
      • ‘A few Maori left in the pa fired a few last desultory shots on the stranded soldiers, until a second battle began.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Long after the muezzin's evening call to the Muslim faithful drifts from the minarets across the dusty rooftops of Peshawar, the desultory rattle of gunfire can be heard.’
      • ‘Clashes and desultory fighting continued in Samarra north of Baghdad between US forces and Sunni Arab guerrillas.’
      • ‘There are desultory protests in the ‘pen’, but that's a shockingly depressing situation.’
      • ‘A few minutes later, the river ford hove into sight, and desultory fire from the enemy began to interrupt the quiet of the dawn like toy cap guns.’
      • ‘The first incoming flight, organised by the CIA, was welcomed with desultory bursts of anti-aircraft fire.’


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