"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Flotsam & Jetsam


Traditionally, flotsam and jetsam are words that describe specific kinds of debris in the ocean. Historically the words had specific nautical meanings, with legal consequences, but in modern usage they have come to mean any kind of marine debris.

There is a technical difference between the two: jetsam has been voluntarily cast into the sea (jettisoned) by the crew of a ship, usually in order to lighten it in an emergency; while flotsam describes goods that are floating on the water without having been thrown in deliberately, often after a shipwreck.

Generally speaking, jetsam is the property of the finder, while flotsam remains the property of its original owner.

Traditionally spelled flotsom and jetsom, the "o" was replaced with "a" in the early twentieth century, and the former spellings have since gone out of common usage.


  1. I really like these words. So much better than saying garbage in the water, right?

  2. Thank you John - So does it mean that if I pick up some driftwood on the beach and subsequently burn it on the fire, I am burning wood that does not belong to me?