Definition of flotsam
- flotsam washed up by the tide
Theme music by Joshua Stamper ©2006 New Jerusalem Music/ASCAP
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
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.
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.
First Known Use: circa 1607See Words from the same year
What made you want to look up flotsam? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).
Winter Words Quiz