flotsam

[ flot-suh m ]
/ ˈflɒt səm /

noun

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 confused

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

British Dictionary definitions for flotsam and jetsam

flotsam

/ (ˈflɒtsəm) /

noun

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

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

Idioms and Phrases with flotsam and jetsam

flotsam and jetsam


1

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]

2

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.