From Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search




Spindrift (sense 1.1) off the coast of Fuerteventura, one of the Canary Islands, Spain.

Borrowed from Scots spindrift; further etymology uncertain.[1] The Oxford English Dictionary suggests it is a variant of spoondrift (archaic), apparently due to the pronunciation of this word in southwestern Scotland,[2] which is derived from spoon +‎ drift (mass of matter driven or forced onward together in a body, etc., especially by wind or water); spoon is a variant of spoom (to sail briskly with the wind astern, with or without sails hoisted).[3] However, this is doubted by the Scottish National Dictionary because spoondrift is attested later than spindrift and it seems unlikely that the Scots spelling would have superseded the English one, and because the early use of the Scots word in the form spenedrift by James Melville (1556–1614) is unlikely to have derived from spoondrift.[1]

The word was popularized in English from the late 19th century by its use in the novels of the Scottish-born author William Black (1841–1898):[2] see, for example, the 1878 quotation.





spindrift (countable and uncountable, plural spindrifts) (originally Scotland)

  1. (nautical) Sea spray (clouds of water droplets) blown from the tops of waves by the wind and whipped along the surface of the sea.
    • 1878, William Black, “First Impressions”, in Macleod of Dare. [], volume II, London: Macmillan and Co., →OCLC, page 252:
      There was no snow as yet up here at Dare; but wild tempests shaking the house to its foundations; and brief gleams of stormy sunlight lighting up the grey spindrift as it was whirled shorewards from the breaking seas; []
    • 1900, John E[dward] Marr, “Production of Dominant Forms”, in The Scientific Study of Scenery, New York, N.Y.: New Amsterdam Book Co.; London: Methuen & Co., →OCLC, page 22:
      The ocean waves are broken up by wind, ultimately producing the storm-wrack and spin-drift of the tempest-tossed sea.
    • 1921 August–September, John Buchan, “The Gorbals Die-hards Go into Action”, in Huntingtower, London; Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson and Sons, published July 1924, →OCLC, page 271:
      [T]ogether they watched the bobbing black specks as they crawled out of the estuary into the grey spindrift which marked the harbour mouth.
    • 1938, Norman Lindsay, chapter XXI, in Age of Consent, London: T[homas] Werner Laurie [], →OCLC, page 225:
      The tide rocks were spouting spray and the wind drove the spindrift in their faces, and they scrambled awkwardly over and round the rock masses tumbled from the cliff face on the flat ledge at sea-level.
  2. (by extension) Clouds of sand, snow, etc., whipped along the ground by the wind.

Alternative forms





  1. 1.0 1.1 spindrift, n.”, in The Dictionary of the Scots Language, Edinburgh: Scottish Language Dictionaries, 2004–present, →OCLC, reproduced from W[illiam] Grant and D[avid] D. Murison, editors, The Scottish National Dictionary, Edinburgh: Scottish National Dictionary Association, 1931–1976, →OCLC.
  2. 2.0 2.1 spindrift, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2022; spindrift, n.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  3. ^ spoondrift, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, September 2019.

Further reading