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[dih-trahy-tuh s] /dɪˈtraɪ təs/
rock in small particles or other material worn or broken away from a mass, as by the action of water or glacial ice.
any disintegrated material; debris.
Origin of detritus
1785-95; < French détritus < Latin: a rubbing away, equivalent to dētrī-, variant stem of dēterere to wear down, rub off (de- de- + terere to rub) + -tus suffix of v. action
Related forms
detrital, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for detritus
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • By some unknown convulsion, this detritus had been heaped up.

  • Death is only real for all the detritus of the world, for all the sorrow, for all the injustice, for all the grief.

    The Octopus Frank Norris
  • What an inconceivable tangle of detritus those streets must be!

    Darkness and Dawn George Allan England
  • The mouth of the Dranse, hard by, is a dreary collection of detritus.

    Lausanne Francis Henry Gribble
  • The soil, composed of sand and that detritus which abounds in American forests, gave way beneath the foot.

    Last of the Incas Gustave Aimard
British Dictionary definitions for detritus


a loose mass of stones, silt, etc, worn away from rocks
an accumulation of disintegrated material or debris
the organic debris formed from the decay of organisms
Derived Forms
detrital, adjective
Word Origin
C18: from French détritus, from Latin dētrītus a rubbing away; see detriment
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 detritus

1795, "process of erosion," from Latin detritus "a wearing away," from detri-, stem of detere "wear away" (see detriment). Geological sense of "matter produced by erosion" is 1802, probably from French detritus; incorrect, in any case.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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detritus in Medicine

detritus de·tri·tus (dĭ-trī'təs)
n. pl. detritus
Loose matter resulting from the wearing away or disintegration of a tissue or substance.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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detritus in Science
  1. Loose fragments, such as sand or gravel, that have been worn away from rock.

  2. Matter produced by the decay or disintegration of an organic substance.

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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