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[drif-ter] /ˈdrɪf tər/
a person or thing that drifts.
a person who goes from place to place, job to job, etc., remaining in each for a short period.
Also called drift boat. a boat used in fishing with a drift net.
Origin of drifter
First recorded in 1860-65; drift + -er1 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for drifter
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Bill said he was a drifter—a dangerous maniac who must have been crazed by the sun.

    The Man the Martians Made Frank Belknap Long
  • The drifter, the unstable, the good-for-nothing—did not falter.

    Five Tales John Galsworthy
  • As I look back on it, it strikes me I always have been more or less of a drifter.

    J. Poindexter, Colored Irvin Shrewsbury Cobb
  • At best he will become an indifferent citizen; at worst a drifter or a criminal.

    Think Col. Wm. C. Hunter
  • He had, like Hadji the beggar, become in twenty-four hours again a drifter.

    Down the Mother Lode Vivia Hemphill
  • Skipper of drifter (who has been fined thirty-five shillings for losing a pair of binoculars).

  • The average man or woman who belongs to the former class has rather a horror of the drifter and likes to give him a wide berth.

    Across the Mesa Jarvis Hall
  • We were steaming in line abreast, and the order was signalled for each ship to take one drifter in tow.

British Dictionary definitions for drifter


a person or thing that drifts
a person who moves aimlessly from place to place, usually without a regular job
a boat used for drift-net fishing
(nautical) a large jib of thin material used in light breezes
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
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Word Origin and History for drifter

1864, as a mining term; 1883, "boat fishing with drift-nets;" agent noun from drift (v.). Meaning "vagrant" is from 1908.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for drifter



A derelict; BUM (1908+) drift off track

verb phrase

To deviate from proper conduct: I sometimes drift off track a bit, but I really try to do what is right (1970s+)

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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