Printable Version
Pronunciation: jet-sêm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Things thrown overboard a ship or airplane. 2. Odds and ends discarded because they are no longer useful.

Notes: Today's Good Word is generally associated with flotsam, as in flotsam and jetsam, referring to floating seatrash or seatrash washed ashore. It is an absolute lexical orphan. For its relation to jettison, see today's Word History.

In Play: First, the original meaning: "The Pacific Ocean has two huge, rotating collections of flotsam and jetsam, consisting of refuse swept from beaches and garbage jettisoned from boats." However, today's Good Word works as well figuratively: "She felt flung about like a piece of jetsam, supported and bashed about by the moods and tides of society."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from maritime law. It resulted from the loss of the unstressed vowel [i] in jettison, something that still happens today (click here for proof). The shift from N to M remains a mystery; the same modification afflicted flotson, making it flotsam. In Middle English the word was jetteson "throwing overboard", based on French jeter "to throw" (whence also English jet), the French rebuild of Latin iectare "toss". Jettison was an 18th century marine insurance writers' restoration of the earlier form of jetsam. Since the original sense of the word had become that of the noun, jetsam, an unambiguous verb was needed for "throw overboard". (We would never jettison Mike Reed's recommendation of today's Good Word. Indeed, we are mighty thankful for it.)

Dr. Goodword,

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