Vocab at the Movies: Flotsam and Jetsam in The Little Mermaid

Jen Dziura —  January 7, 2011

Flotsam and JetsamFlotsam and Jetsam are evil moray eels in Disney’s The Little Mermaid.

The words flotsam and jetsam, appropriately enough, are words related to trash found in the water.

While the two words usually occur as an expression — “flotsam and jetsam,” always in that order — they do have distinct meanings:

Flotsam is “the part of the wreckage of a ship and its cargo found floating on the water.”

Jetsam is “goods cast overboard deliberately, as to lighten a vessel or improve its stability in an emergency, which sink where jettisoned or are washed ashore.”

As an expression, “flotsam and jetsam” often means any big mess of trash, or even of people. The earthquake that destroyed much of the city also caused the prison’s north wall to crumble, allowing the flotsam and jetsam of society to pour out into the chaos.

A third word, lagan, refers to “anything sunk in the sea, but attached to a buoy or the like so that it may be recovered.”

From Wikipedia, on The Little Mermaid:

Flotsam and Jetsam are the first to notice Ariel’s infatuation with the world above. Upon witnessing the mermaid fall in love with a human, Prince Eric, Ursula sends Flotsam and Jetsam to propose a deal to Ariel. In making sure that Ursula wins the deal, Flotsam and Jetsam sabotage what would have been a successful kiss between Ariel and Eric. In the climax, Flotsam and Jetsam attempt to drown Eric by dragging him underwater.

Trashy!

Manhattan GRE’s blog is written by one of our real-live GRE instructors. She teaches in New York. To learn about Manhattan GRE’s classes, go here. To suggest a word or topic for the blog, email jen@manhattanprep.com/gre.

Jen Dziura

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