Definition of flotsam in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈflɒts(ə)m/


[mass noun]
1The wreckage of a ship or its cargo found floating on or washed up by the sea. Compare with jetsam.
Example sentences
  • It has the habit of swimming in small shoals around patches of flotsam, or floating logs, and is attracted by rafts or drifting boats.
  • But being seen in the shimmering waters, when you're but a speck of flotsam to a passing ship, was never a sure bet.
  • It's finding a shell or bit of interesting flotsam washed up during the last high tide or a few oysters that can be opened and washed down with a glass of wine back home.
wreckage, lost cargo, floating remains
1.1People or things that have been rejected or discarded as worthless: the room was cleared of boxes and other flotsam
More example sentences
  • The federation is a worthless body of flotsam - we should invite the university to take over: it can't possibly do any worse.
  • Obviously, with every man and his dog being able to update the pages of such a site, there was always a very real risk that idiots would try to fill it with disinformation, advertising and other worthless flotsam.
  • Outside, a man is pushing a battered shopping cart filled with flotsam from the road: crumpled cans, a discarded flask, a pillow.
rubbish, debris, detritus, waste, waste matter, discarded matter, dross, refuse, remains, scrap, lumber, odds and ends;
North American  trash, garbage;
Australian/New Zealand  mullock
informal dreck, junk
British informal grot, gash
vulgar slang shit, crap
Archaeology  debitage
rare draff, raffle, raff, cultch, orts


flotsam and jetsam

Useless or discarded objects.
Example sentences
  • Typical examples of materials found include visitor waste, flotsam and jetsam, off-shore fishing waste and articles such as cotton buds and materials washed down toilets.
  • I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him.
  • Consisting entirely of discovered letters, lists, angry diatribes and photographs, each issue of Found presents a glimpse into the oft-wondrous flotsam and jetsam of human existence.


Early 17th century: from Anglo-Norman French floteson, from floter 'to float'.

  • This legal term for wreckage found floating on the sea or washed up on the beach, comes ultimately from French, from the verb floter ‘to float’. Flotsam and jetsam is useless or discarded objects. Jetsam came originally from jettison (Late Middle English), a term for the deliberate throwing of goods overboard to lighten a ship in distress, which came ultimately from the Latin verb jactare ‘to throw’. In the 16th century it was shortened to give us first the spelling jetson and then our modern word jetsam. There are strict legal distinctions made between what you can do with flotsam and with jetsam.

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: flot|sam

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