Printable Version
Pronunciation: de-sêl-to-ri Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Meandering slowly, floating around aimlessly without focus or direction. 2. Random, haphazard, disorganized.

Notes: Today's Good Word is an adjective that galloped off on its own and left its mother behind. It is the adjective derived from desultor "leaping equestrian" (see Word History), but now bears no semantic relationship to that word. It has all the requisite forms of adjectives, an adverb desultorily and a noun, desultoriness.

In Play: When I wrote this, I was watching desultory leaves falling from the sugar maple in my back yard. You might have thought at the time that they were choosing a spot to land, given the fiery carpet they were spreading across the lawn. All that is over now and we have even returned from the desultory Christmastide holiday season to focus again on work.

Word History: Latin desultor "leaper" referred to a Roman circus performer who rode several horses at one time, leaping from one to the other. The word was derived from desultus, the past participle of desilire "to leap from" based on de- "from" + salire "jump". (The Italian equivalent of English desultory, desultòrio still means "jumping".) The root of these words, salire, is related to salacious "lustful, wanton", taken from Latin salax "fond of leaping". I'll let you connect the semantic dots. Something that is salient leaps out at you and when you sally forth, you leap out yourself. Both these words, too, are French descendants of various forms of salire. Finally, we are not so sure here but salmon may have come from a word meaning "leaping fish" that has since been lost. (Let us not be desultory but leap at the chance to thank Lew Jury for suggesting today's suggestive Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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