desultory

Desultory comes from the circus … more specifically, from the Latin dēsultōrius, leaping, which was from dēsultor, a leaper, (from dēsultus, past participle of dēsilīre, to leap down : -, de– + salīre, to jump), with an accent on the first syllable. Desultors were Roman circus riders who leapt from one galloping horse to another; usually two horses at the same time, sitting on them without a saddle, and vaulting upon either of them to the roar of the crowd. And hence the modern use of jumping around from one idea to another, although certainly not at all in that vigorous circus horseback riding sense. You are now allowed to be slow and desultory.

Incidentally, it’s tempting to pronounce it otherwise, but with desultory, the accent is on the first syllable. For some reason, to many ears de-SUL-tory sounds classier, quasi-British. It also sounds right probably because of its similarity to common words like “insulting,” which, of course has a stress on the second syllable. But when it comes to desultory, it’s very, very wrong.

Desultory comes from the circus … more specifically, from the Latin dēsultōrius, leaping, which was from dēsultor, a leaper, (from dēsultus, past participle of dēsilīre, to leap down : -, de– + salīre, to jump), with an accent on the first syllable. Desultors were Roman circus riders who leapt from one galloping horse to another; usually two horses at the same time, sitting on them without a saddle, and vaulting upon either of them to the roar of the crowd. And hence the modern use of jumping around from one idea to another, although certainly not at all in that vigorous circus horseback riding sense. You are now allowed to be slow and desultory.

Incidentally, it’s tempting to pronounce it otherwise, but with desultory, the accent is on the first syllable. For some reason, to many ears de-SUL-tory sounds classier, quasi-British. It also sounds right probably because of its similarity to common words like “insulting,” which, of course has a stress on the second syllable. But when it comes to desultory, it’s very, very wrong.

desultory (adj.): not having a plan or purpose, skipping about, going aimlessly from one thing to another

from You’re Saying it Wrong