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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
  • The world's oceans are filling with bottles, wrappers and other flotsam.
  • Those are always more common than violent crimes, and therefore more likely to enter the flotsam of daily conversation.
  • The flotsam and jetsam would go to the highest bidder.
  • The motions of this visible material reveal that it is mere flotsam on an unseen sea of unknown material.
  • Search pilots could see beer coolers and other flotsam bobbing in the water below.
  • Now they have to compete with urban gulls used to feeding off the flotsam and jetsam of city life.
  • The tsunami's flotsam tore through it, and then got sucked back down again.
  • Use a strainer on the drippings to get all the flotsam out of that.
  • Until recently, sprinklers were strictly flea-market flotsam.
  • They were good enough to be ranked in preseason polls, but not any higher than the flotsam and jetsam of post-season candidates.
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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