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).

1600–10; < Anglo-French floteson, derivative of floter to float < Old English flotian

flotsam, jetsam.
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World English Dictionary
flotsam (ˈflɒtsəm)
1.  jetsam Compare lagan wreckage from a ship found floating
2.  useless or discarded objects; odds and ends (esp in the phrase flotsam and jetsam)
3.  vagrants
[C16: from Anglo-French floteson, from floter to float]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin & History

c.1600, from Anglo-Fr. floteson, from O.Fr. flotaison "a floating," from floter "to float" (of Gmc. origin) + -aison, from L. -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.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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