[flot-suh m]


the part of the wreckage of a ship and its cargo found floating on the water.Compare jetsam, lagan.
material or refuse floating on water.
useless or unimportant items; odds and ends.
a vagrant, penniless population: the flotsam of the city slums in medieval Europe.

Origin of flotsam

1600–10; < Anglo-French floteson, derivative of floter to float < Old English flotian
Also called flotsam and jetsam (for defs 3, 4).
Can be confusedflotsam jetsam
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for flotsam

cargo, junk, wreckage, jetsam

Examples from the Web for flotsam

Contemporary Examples of flotsam

Historical Examples of flotsam

  • They will find the courage to clear the land of the flotsam and cultivate it anew.

    The Flood

    Emile Zola

  • A scuttle-butt was torn from its lashings and went by the board, and other flotsam followed it.

  • Logs, planks, and the other flotsam of a freshet moved on in the van of the flood.

    Aladdin &amp; Co.

    Herbert Quick

  • This is my estate, and all flotsam and jetsam as is washed ashore is mine.

    King o' the Beach

    George Manville Fenn

  • The rest were in character with Grants nearer companions—just flotsam.

    Dust of the Desert

    Robert Welles Ritchie

British Dictionary definitions for flotsam



wreckage from a ship found floatingCompare jetsam (def. 1), lagan
useless or discarded objects; odds and ends (esp in the phrase flotsam and jetsam)

Word Origin for flotsam

C16: from Anglo-French floteson, from floter to float
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 flotsam

c.1600, from Anglo-French floteson, from Old French flotaison "a floating," from floter "to float" (of Germanic origin; see float) + -aison, from Latin -ation(em). Spelled flotsen till mid-19c. when it altered, perhaps under influence of many English words in -some.

In British law, flotsam are goods found floating on the sea as a consequence of a shipwreck or action of wind or waves; jetsam are things cast out of a ship in danger of being wrecked, and afterward washed ashore, or things cast ashore by the sailors. Whatever sinks is lagan. Figurative use for "odds and ends" attested by 1861.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper