[ flot-suh m ]
/ ˈflɒt səm /


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.

Nearby words

  1. flote grass,
  2. flotel,
  3. flotilla,
  4. flotow,
  5. flotow, friedrich von,
  6. flotsam and jetsam,
  7. flotus,
  8. flounce,
  9. flouncing,
  10. flouncy

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

British Dictionary definitions for flotsam and jetsam


/ (ˈflɒtsəm) /


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 and jetsam



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

Idioms and Phrases with flotsam and jetsam

flotsam and jetsam


Discarded odds and ends, as in Most of our things have been moved to the new house, but there's still some flotsam and jetsam to sort. [Mid-1800s]


Destitute, homeless individuals, as in The mayor was concerned about the flotsam and jetsam of the inner city. [Second half of 1900s] Both words originated in 17th-century sailing terminology. Flotsam literally meant “wreckage or cargo that remains afloat after a ship has sunk.” Jetsam meant “goods thrown overboard from a ship in danger of sinking in order to give it more buoyancy.” Both literal meanings remain current, although the distinction between them is often forgotten.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.