in ,


Definition: Goods cast overboard from a ship

Pronunciation: Jet-sim


‘Jetsam’ first appears in the mid-16th century as jottsome, originating from the same root word as the verb to jettison. The distinction today is that ‘Jetsam’ is the noun used to refer to the material itself that has been thrown overboard, whereas the verb jettison refers to the actual act of throwing it. Indeed, both relate to the word jet,originally meaning ‘to throw about’.

Why this word?

Almost invariably today, jetsam refers to throwing things overboard with the specific intent of lightening the load during times of distress. It is usually not used in common language without the word ‘Flotsam’ – itself a rather obscure word that refers to floating material from a wrecked ship. What fascinated me, however, is that the law that governs shipwrecks actually classes these as legal terms. There are four such terms in total – the other two being lagen, meaning retrievable wreckage on the sea floor, and derelict, which cannot be reclaimed.

So there you have it – an four-for-one!

How to use the word jetsam in a sentence?

One very rarely uses ‘Jetsam’ without flotsam. One might look at a beach strewn with debris and comment on the ‘flotsam and jetsam’. Depending on the company – or how showy-offy you wanted to be – you could opine aloud “Look at that mess on the beach – but I wonder if it is flotsam or jetsam?”

Of course, using it in such a manner runs the risk of your acquaintances deciding that it is time to cast you overboard and leave you derelict on the seabed – an unsalvageable wreckage of the friend-ship.


What do you think?

1000 points
Upvote Downvote

Written by Sean Carabini

Seán Carabini is a Dublin-based author. To date, Seán has written the humorous travel memoirs 'Sticking Out in Minnesota' and 'American Road', as well as 'American Road: The poems' - a book of travel poetry related to the memoir. Seán has also developed a podcast based on the book - subscribe to the American Road podcast today! Seán is a committee member of the Irish Writers' Union.

Chrissy Skelton is Seán Carabini's editor. A graduate of the University of Minnesota's Anthropology programme, Chrissy emerged armed with an arsenal of little-known words and cumbersome jargon - all of which will now be off-loaded onto 'unusedwords' readers!


Leave a Reply