noun flot·sam \ ˈflät-səm \
Updated on: 12 Jan 2018

Definition of flotsam

1 : floating wreckage of a ship or its cargo; broadly : floating debris
  • flotsam washed up by the tide
2 a : 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

flotsam was our Word of the Day on 11/11/2012. Hear the podcast!

Examples of flotsam in a Sentence

  1. flotsam washed up on the shore

  2. the dispirited family picked through the flotsam of their possessions after the hurricane, looking for anything that could be salvaged

Recent Examples of flotsam from the Web

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.

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 Old 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.

Origin and Etymology of flotsam

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

Other Nautical Terms

FLOTSAM Defined for English Language Learners



Definition of flotsam for English Language Learners

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

Law Dictionary


noun flot·sam \ ˈflät-səm \

legal Definition of flotsam

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

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having a quality expressive of sadness

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