flot·​sam | \ ˈflät-səm How to pronounce flotsam (audio) \

Definition of flotsam

1 : floating wreckage of a ship or its cargo broadly : floating debris flotsam washed up by the tide
2a : a floating population (as of emigrants or castaways) human flotsam
b : miscellaneous or unimportant material a notebook filled with flotsam and jetsam
c : debris, remains the village … built on the flotsam of war— Stan Sesser

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Flotsam and Jetsam Aren't Just Ursula's Eels

English speakers started using flotsam, jetsam, and lagan as legal terms in the 16th and 17th centuries. (The earliest evidence of flotsam dates from around 1607.) The three words were used to establish claims of ownership to the three types of sea-borne, vessel-originated goods they named. Flotsam was anything from a shipwreck. (The word comes from Anglo-French floter, meaning "to float.") Jetsam and lagan were items thrown overboard to lighten a ship. Lagan was distinguished from jetsam by having a buoy attached so the goods could be found if they sank. In the 19th century, when flotsam and jetsam took on extended meanings, they became synonyms, but they are still very often paired.

Examples of flotsam in a Sentence

flotsam washed up on the shore the dispirited family picked through the flotsam of their possessions after the hurricane, looking for anything that could be salvaged
Recent Examples on the Web In just two years, look at the real-life flotsam and jetsam as coach Brian Flores navigates out of this rebuilding storm. Dave Hyde, sun-sentinel.com, "Hyde: The Dolphins’ surprising release of Kyle Van Noy isn’t so surprising — it’s ice-cold smart | Commentary," 3 Mar. 2021 Over the years, he's studied numerous oceanic spills, including hockey gloves and rubber duckies, and continues to publish a monthly newsletter called Beachcombers' Alert that reports on flotsam found in the ocean. Jennifer Nalewicki, Smithsonian Magazine, "Artist Fashions Nike Air Jordan 5s From Trash," 28 Oct. 2020 The men were forced to abandon the vessel and build a rudimentary cabin on land from bits of the ship and flotsam scavenged from the shore. Star Tribune, "Review: 'Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World,' by Andrea Pitzer," 8 Jan. 2021 Slowly though, this drawer filled up with an especially gaudy collection of flotsam: sparkly dresses, capes, plastic beads, fake flowers, hideous wigs, and netting underskirts with sagging elastic at the waistline. Rosalind Jana, refinery29.com, "Celebrate Dressing Up For The Holidays — Even With Nowhere To Go," 21 Dec. 2020 And this is before the state’s traditional rainy season, which washes urban flotsam and jetsam into the sea. Scott Wilson, Washington Post, "A pandemic side effect: Used masks polluting California coastal waters," 11 Dec. 2020 Outside, his horses had weathered the storm pretty well, though Mallett had just pulled a nail — one of countless bits of flotsam strewn about by the twin storms — from one animal's hoof. Andrea Gallo And Bryn Stole | Staff Writers, NOLA.com, "Hurricane Delta deals harsh, wet second blow to storm-battered southwest Lousiana," 10 Oct. 2020 In mid-September, an unusual stream of of flotsam continues to wash up on the coastline of the Bering Strait, from Shishmaref to Nome. Michelle Theriault Boots, Anchorage Daily News, "Deck boots, water bottles, fruit: An unusual marine debris event is coating Bering Strait beaches in trash from abroad," 25 Sep. 2020 So it is left to Mochida to curate the flotsam and jetsam of the coronavirus. Yuri Kageyama, USA TODAY, "How 'things' tell a story: Japan museum portrays coronavirus pandemic life through everyday items," 20 Aug. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'flotsam.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of flotsam

circa 1607, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for flotsam

Anglo-French floteson, from floter to float, of Germanic origin; akin to Old English flotian to float, flota ship

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The first known use of flotsam was circa 1607

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Last Updated

10 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Flotsam.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/flotsam. Accessed 9 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for flotsam



English Language Learners Definition of flotsam

: floating pieces, parts, etc., from a ship that has been wrecked


flot·​sam | \ ˈflät-səm How to pronounce flotsam (audio) \

Legal Definition of flotsam

: floating wreckage of a ship or its cargo — compare jetsam

More from Merriam-Webster on flotsam

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for flotsam

Nglish: Translation of flotsam for Spanish Speakers

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