Where Do the Words ‘Flotsam’ and ‘Jetsum’ Come From?

Where Do the Words ‘Flotsam’ and ‘Jetsum’ Come From?


Bumping into a rock or a reef, war, swamped
by rough weather or high waves, pilot error or pirates, there are a variety of ways a
ship can sink. After it does, depending on whether it floated
out on its own, was thrown overboard or sank to Davy Jones Locker, the equipment, cargo
and bits of ship that leave a wreck have distinct names, with the distinction classically being
important in maritime law. Flotsam denotes that wreckage from a ship
that is later found floating on the sea’s surface. The word traces its roots to the early 1600s
and the Anglo-French floteson, which derived from the Old French flotaison (meaning “a
floating.”) The word in English was spelled flotsen until
the mid-1800s, when it took on its modern variant. Jetsam, first seen in the mid-1500s, is the
stuff that was purposely thrown off a ship by its crew to lighten its load (usually during
troubling times), and is washed ashore. The word is a modification and contraction
of the Middle English jetteson, itself from the Anglo-French getteson and Old French getaison
(meaning “a throwing.”) As for the often more figurative expression
“flotsam and jetsam,” this appears to have popped up around the early to mid-19th
century, with one of the earliest known documented instances, according to the OED, appearing
in the June 1, 1861 edition of All Y. Round: “Turkey buzzards were searching for
flotson and jetson in the shape of dead Irish deck hands.” As for other similar shipwreck terms, any
wreckage from a ship that sinks is lagan (ligan), a word that apparently derives from an Old
English (500-1150 AD) word that meant, among other things, to lie down and be at rest. Wreckage that sinks to the ocean floor and
has no hope of recovery is called derelict; this word traces its origins in English to
the 1640s and is derived from the Latin derelictus for solitary and deserted. Its meaning of an abandoned vessel may be
traced back to the 1660s. Researchers with the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimate that as many as one million shipwrecks remain
underwater in the world’s oceans, and a majority of these remain undiscovered. For instance, during the 300-year Spanish
plunder of the Americas, it is estimated that 10% of what was shipped off was lost; these
wrecks are today collectively worth several billion dollars. At least one treasure hunter estimates that
there remains approximately $60 billion worth of lagan resting on the floors of the world’s
oceans. One recovered wreck in 2012, the H.M.S. Victory
that sank in the English Channel in 1744, contained four tons of gold coins worth, if
auctioned for their historical value, up to $1 billion, although the gold itself was only
worth about $160 million. A risky business, treasure salvagers sometimes
have their finds taken away. For example, in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court
affirmed the 2009 decision of a lower federal court that the treasure hunters’ claim to
$600 million in found gold and silver was insufficient to defeat other claims by the
Spanish government. Adding insult to injury, the treasure hunters
(Odyssey Marine Exploration) were also eventually ordered to pay a portion of Spain’s legal
fees in prosecuting the suit. Learning from the experience, before beginning
a subsequent salvage operation of the Victory in 2012, Odyssey negotiated an agreement whereby
they would document the site prior to salvage, and then recover items of historical significance
that would be given to the claimant, Maritime Heritage Foundation (which received the title
for wreck from British authorities). In exchange, the foundation will pay Odyssey
for the items recovered.

100 thoughts on “Where Do the Words ‘Flotsam’ and ‘Jetsum’ Come From?

  1. Interesting : I was wondering why you said "flottaison" was old french, then I noticed the spelling you used. The old word is "flotaison", the current word is "flottaison".

  2. I usually don't get any trouble to figure out what french word you are using despite the accent but on this one, I'm glad you had it wrote down. Man now i understand why france say we are using old french (quebecois)

  3. Huh, I always heard it said that flotsam was natural floating debris (i.e.; trees, seaweed, etc.); while jetsam was debris from man-made sources in general.

  4. It says a lot about the content quality of a video if the worse comment you could do is “ I believe your button is loose…”
    Great job as usual! =)

  5. Haven't watched the vid yet but I was gonna say that this must be his next attempt to tackle language (the "lurry" incident)… Then I saw the button.

  6. The easy way to remember is that:
    1. flotsam floated back to the surface
    2. jetsam was jettisoned (i.e. thrown overboard deliberately)
    3. ligan (aka lagan) usually has a ligature attached to it (a rope, generally also attached to a buoy) although it can also refer to larger items still trapped in a sunken hull
    4. derelict is simply something abandoned, with no expectation of recovery (maritime law specifies it to be in navigable waters.)

    Btw, I can find no reference for "jetsum" as spelled in the title – I suspect you may have a misspelling or typo there.

  7. The one button is just your way of asking me if I fancy a shag. It's unmistakable. Like a woman in a thong bikini.

  8. I always thought (or was taught) that laden meant loaded. I knew flotsum and jetsum (both spellings) and derelict. Lagan I never heard til now.

  9. wow, old english really had quite some similarities to german :p
    legen, very similarly pronounced to lagan, is the german verb of to lie down or be at rest :p

  10. Just a suggestion for future video ideas, but who is Justin Y. and how are they able to comment on virtually every popular Youtube video

  11. " Flotsam and jetsam! Batton the prowcap and raise the jib-jabber… thingy! "
    " … Who'd you say you were again, sailor? "
    " Arrg! My name's Two Tibs'-a-Whisker, and this here's Blood-covered Backstabbin' Blackjack the Blade! "

  12. There is a more modern variation of the meanings which many nautical folk now use. That is; "jetsam" is anything floating on the surface that is man-made and most likely came from a boat – such as trash, bits of rope, fenders etc. And "flotsam" is natural junk floating on the surface such as weed, wood, dead fish etc. In calm seas, within a few miles of the coast, you often find patches of flotsam and jetsam drifting about and they often attract marine life who like to use it for shelter.

  13. 40% of the comments:
    "never heard of those words"
    45% of the comments:
    "button your shirt!"
    19% of the comments:
    "take off the shirt"
    and comments like this are the final 1%.
    yall need to think of someone original to say. nice vid

  14. Odyssey used to have a show on discovery, I wondered what happened to them. Seems they got legally fucked over

  15. Hi guys,
    Please buy my Kindle Ebook “The Ramblings of a Thoughtful Man” by Bernard Weir. I have put my life in danger by publishing it and badly need the money to escape from the clutches of the evil ones. You could at least download a sample and if you belong to Kindle unlimited you could borrow it and if you read 10% of it I’ll get a royalty. If you’re not yet a member of Kindle Unlimited you can get a free months trial. Cheers.

  16. Why is rocket science a common reference when it is pretty well established and straightforward? There haven't been any major breakthroughs in the last 40 years besides semiconductor count and a most of nazi era formulas are still in widespread use among hobbyists who can't afford a flow simulation. Figuring out where the rocket goes is another thing.. Also why do american pocs name their daughters after automobile manufacturers?

  17. No mention of the MSC Napoli and the containers that washed ashore? People were pulling BMW motorcycles out of one container and taking them home.

  18. I thought Jetsum was stuff that fell out of the sky into the ocean; the first instance being when some discarded refuse from the Spacely Sprocket Company fell into the ocean.

  19. Simon, I really like the shorter videos. Thank you. I guess that is want the podcast is for – putting all the details in so the videos can be briefer.

  20. 3:01 If I'm smart enough to find treasure, I'm gonna be smart enough to not talk about it until its been long enough that nothing can be done.

  21. You're handing out those bonus facts so freely now I'm starting to take them for granted rather than feeling as though they're perks. Artificial scarcity, my man. That's the way you build value. Not by handing things out like they're candy or something!

  22. In My area in America we also use the word flotsam for backwash – when drinking a drink and things from your mouth comes out and is floating on your container.

  23. Where is the coast guard? I keep looking each direction for a spotlight, give me something. I need something for protection.
    Maybe flotsam junk will do just fine, the jetsum sunk, I'm left behind. I'm treading for my life, believe me. How can one man stop his ending?

    This song is the only thing that comes to mind when I hear "flotsam" and "jetsum."

  24. Wait… the Spanish Government has a legal right of ownership over gold that it tried – and FAILED – to steal from the Americas hundreds of years ago?

  25. Title of the video needs to be corrected! It's "Jetsam," not "Jetsum," and you get it right during the video at least some of the time (can't remember, saw this on Roku last night where you can't comment).

  26. 1:33 If the Irish deck hands were jetson that means they were thrown overboard to lighten the load. "Macauley, you fat bastard, we've got bad news…"

  27. First read up on flotsam and jetsam when Peter Gabriel released his (1978) 2nd solo album. Always have to do research for his albums.
    In '86 he made me aware of the Milgram experiment. Damn you Pete.

  28. Speaking of interesting etymologies, ever wonder why we call parents "mom" and "dad" or similar such things instead of their names? Well, wonder no more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxPCp69ZwzY -Daven

  29. Spanish government fucked up considering Treasure Hunters don't do anything for free.

    So legal Treasure Hunter won't search for anything in Spain any more and illegal ones are just going to sell everything on the black market from now on.

    Governments are unnecessarily greedy sometimes and forget the long term consequences of their actions…

  30. BUT HOW DID YOU KNOW I WAS WATCHING THE LITTLE MERMAID AND WONDERING WHY URSULA’S EELS WERE NAMED FLOTSAM & JETSAM?!?!?!

  31. I started watching then realized the second button on his shirt isn't buttoned and am now distracted. P.S. love your videos.

  32. You talk way too much. I cannot stay with the videos without jumping ahead. This video is the exception to excessive verbosity.

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