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Spindrift on stormy sea

Spindrift (more rarely spoondrift)[1] is the spray blown from cresting waves during a gale. This spray, which "drifts" in the direction of the gale, is one of the characteristics of a wind speed of 8 Beaufort and higher at sea.[2] In Greek and Roman mythology, Leucothea was the goddess of spindrift.[3]


Spindrift is derived from the Scots language, but its further etymology is uncertain.[4] Although the Oxford English Dictionary suggests it is a variant of spoondrift based on the way that word was pronounced in southwest Scotland,[5] from spoon or spoom ("to sail briskly with the wind astern, with or without sails hoisted") and drift ("a mass of matter driven or forced onward together in a body, etc., especially by wind or water"),[6] 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Dictionary because spoondrift is attested later than spindrift and it seems unlikely that the Scots spelling would have superseded the English one, and because the early use of the word in the form spenedrift by James Melville (1556–1614) is unlikely to have derived from spoondrift.[4] In any case, spindrift was popularized in England through its use in the novels of the Scottish-born author William Black (1841–1898).[5]

In the 1940s U.S. Navy, spindrift and spoondrift appear to have been used for different phenomena, as in the following record by the captain of the USS Barb (SS-220): "Visibility – which had been fair on the surface after moonrise – was now exceedingly poor due to spoondrift. Would that it were only the windblown froth of spindrift rather than the wind-driven cloudburst of water lashing the periscope exit eyepiece."[7]

Spindrift or spoondrift is also used to refer to fine sand or snow that is blown off the ground by the wind.[5][6][8]


  1. ^ Shorter Oxford English dictionary. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. 2007. p. 3804. ISBN 978-0199206872.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2011-12-14.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ See footnote 117 in Marcel Proust, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, trans. James Grieve (New York: Penguin Books, 2002).
  4. ^ a b "spindrift, n.", in The Dictionary of the Scots Language, Edinburgh: Scottish Language Dictionaries, 2004–, OCLC 57069714, reproduced from W[illiam] Grant and D[avid] D. Murison, editors, The Scottish National Dictionary, Edinburgh: Scottish National Dictionary Association, 1931–1976, OCLC 847228655.
  5. ^ a b c "spindrift, n.". OED Online. Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press. March 2022.
  6. ^ a b "spoondrift, n.". OED Online. Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press. September 2019.
  7. ^ Thunder Below!. United States of America: the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 1992. pp. 188, 189. ISBN 978-0-252-06670-2.
  8. ^ Spindrift on Merriam–Webster Online. Retrieved 20 July 2008.