Word of the Day – Flotsam

Word of the Day: May 12, 2020


noun – FLAHT-sum


  • floating wreckage of a ship or its cargo; broadly : floating debris
  • a floating population (as of emigrants or castaways)
  • miscellaneous or unimportant material
  • debrisremains

Did you know?

English speakers started using flotsamjetsam, and lagan as legal terms in the 16th and 17th centuries (the earliest evidence of flotsam dates from around the early 1600s). The three words were used to establish claims of ownership to the three types of seaborne, 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.


The young couple’s apartment was adorned with the flotsam and jetsam of thrift stores and yard sales.

“The set is one room—but what a room, stuffed with the furniture, flotsam and jetsam of a half-century. And it’s not like the stage crew could go out and rent a lot of 1930s-era furniture. So the company has borrowed furniture from local residents for the duration of the play.” — Cheryl Schweizer, The Columbia Basin Herald (Moses Lake, Washington), 6 Feb. 2020

Merriam-Webster Word of the Day