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[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.
Also called flotsam and jetsam (for defs 3, 4).
Origin of flotsam
1600-10; < Anglo-French floteson, derivative of floter to float < Old English flotian
Can be confused
flotsam, jetsam. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for flotsam
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • If they continue at sea, the law distinguishes them by the barbarous and uncouth appellations of jetsam, flotsam, and ligan.

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

    Blow The Man Down Holman Day
  • When the weather cleared again, I don't know how long it was, I crawled down and overhauled the flotsam.

    Isle o' Dreams Frederick F. Moore
  • The rest were in character with Grants nearer companions—just flotsam.

    Dust of the Desert Robert Welles Ritchie
  • The old man plodded ahead, muttering and frowning as he peered down at the flotsam in the motionless waters.

    The Landloper Holman Day
  • Among the torn bodies the flotsam of war lay unheeded in the mud.

    The Story of the Munsters Mrs Victor Rickard
  • In fact, it would not do to forget that the six men whose boat had gone to pieces on the rocks had landed at flotsam Point.

    The Mysterious Island Jules Verne
  • Am I to drift always about the world, a mere piece of flotsam on Swansea tide?

    An Ocean Tramp William McFee
  • Don't you believe that flotsam can sometimes be washed ashore?

    The Masquerader Katherine Cecil Thurston
British Dictionary definitions for flotsam


wreckage from a ship found floating Compare jetsam (sense 1), lagan
useless or discarded objects; odds and ends (esp in the phrase flotsam and jetsam)
Word Origin
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
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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
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