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
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for drifter

transient, hobo, itinerant, vagrant, tramp, nomad, vagabond, derelict

Examples from the Web for drifter

Contemporary Examples of drifter

Historical Examples of drifter

  • 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.


    Col. Wm. C. Hunter

  • He had, like Hadji the beggar, become in twenty-four hours again a drifter.

    Down the Mother Lode

    Vivia Hemphill

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

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