1. Goods floating on the surface of a body of water after a shipwreck or after being cast overboard to lighten the ship.
2. Discarded or unimportant things: "Keyrings, bookmarks ... gum, scissors, paper clips ... pencils and pads stolen from various hotels: all this detritus, this flotsam of a life being lived at full throttle" (David Leavitt).
3. People who are considered to be worthless or to have been rejected by society.
[Anglo-Norman floteson, from Old French floter, to float, of Germanic origin; see pleu- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.