from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • intransitive verb To be carried along by currents of air or water.
  • intransitive verb To proceed or move unhurriedly or aimlessly.
  • intransitive verb To live or behave without a clear purpose or goal.
  • intransitive verb To have no continuing focus; stray.
  • intransitive verb To vary from or oscillate randomly about a fixed setting, position, or mode of operation.
  • intransitive verb To be piled up in banks or heaps by the force of a current.
  • intransitive verb To cause to be carried in a current.
  • intransitive verb To pile up in banks or heaps.
  • intransitive verb Western US To drive (livestock) slowly or far afield, especially for grazing.
  • noun Something moving along in a current of air or water.
  • noun A bank or pile, as of sand or snow, heaped up by currents of air or water.
  • noun Geology Rock debris transported and deposited by or from ice, especially by or from a glacier.
  • noun A general trend or tendency, as of opinion. synonym: tendency.
  • noun General meaning or purport; tenor.
  • noun A gradual change in position.
  • noun A gradual deviation from an original course, model, method, or intention.
  • noun Variation or random oscillation about a fixed setting, position, or mode of behavior.
  • noun A gradual change in the output of a circuit or amplifier.
  • noun The rate of flow of a water current.
  • noun A tool for ramming or driving something down.
  • noun A tapered steel pin for enlarging and aligning holes.
  • noun A horizontal or nearly horizontal passageway in a mine running through or parallel to a vein.
  • noun A secondary mine passageway between two main shafts or tunnels.
  • noun A drove or herd, especially of swine.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • To drive specifically, to drive by striking a set, pin, or block aced against the object to be driven.
  • To enlarge or shape a hole by the use of a drift-pin.
  • To float or be driven along by a current of water or air; be carried at random by the force of the wind or tide; hence, figuratively, to be carried as if by accident or involuntarily into a course of action or state of circumstances.
  • To accumulate in heaps by the force of wind; be driven into heaps.
  • In mining, to run a drift. See drift, n., 6.
  • To drive into heaps: as, a current of wind drifts snow or sand.
  • To cover with drifts or driftage.
  • To excavate horizontally or in a horizontal direction; drive. Shafts are sunk; levels or drifts are driven or drifted.
  • To delay; put off.
  • noun The flow of a current.
  • noun The amount by which a ship is drifted by the action of a current, wind, or sea.
  • noun The place in the sheer where the rails are cut off.
  • noun A conical steel pin used by riveters or fitters to drift or force two holes not quite in line with each other, so that the openings will coincide and let the rivet or bolt pass through.
  • noun A set of fishing-nets.
  • noun A drift-net.
  • noun The catch of fish taken in a drift-net.
  • noun In turpentining, a subdivision of the crop, usually 2,100 boxes or cups.
  • noun In oceanography, a broad and shallow current which advances at, a rate of ten or fifteen miles a day, like that which crosses the middle North Atlantic.
  • noun In aëronautics, the tendency of an object supported in the air (as a kite or a bird) to move in the direction of the air; opposed to lift or the ascensional force.
  • noun A driving; a force impelling or urging forward; impulse; hence, figuratively, overbearing power or influence.
  • noun Anything driven; especially, an assemblage or a number of things or animals driven, or impelled by any kind of force: as, a drift of trees in a torrent; a drift of cattle (a drove); a drift of bullets.
  • noun Hence A heap of any matter driven together: as, a drift of snow, or a snow-drift; a drift of sand.


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[From Middle English, drove, herd, act of driving; see dhreibh- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle English drift, dryft ("act of driving, drove, shower of rain or snow, impulse"), from Old English *drift (“drift”), from Proto-Germanic *driftiz (“drift”), from Proto-Indo-European *dhreibh- (“to drive, push”). Cognate with North Frisian drift ("drift"), Dutch drift ("drift, passion, urge"), German Drift ("drift") and Trift ("drove, pasture"), Swedish drift ("impulse, instinct"), Icelandic drift ("drift, snow-drift"). Related to drive.


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  • A big part of the policy story is what we call "drift" - the deliberate failure to update policies to reflect changing economic realities despite viable and popular alternatives due to the pressure of those benefiting from such calculated inaction.

    NYT > Home Page By DAVID LEONHARDT 2011

  • The old and discredited neo-conservatives like Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Bolton and Jeb Bush sought to link domestic controversies surrounding the Clinton administration to what they described as a drift in American foreign and defense policy.

    The Stakes in the 2008 Election 2008

  • I have dived myself there in the Netherland Antilles, and we did what you call drift diving, where it carries you along, the water does, because there ` s a very heavy current.

    CNN Transcript Jun 20, 2005 2005

  • They profess to see the approaching extinction of the American democracy in what they call the drift towards centralization.

    The Promise of American Life Herbert David Croly 1899

  • We're happy to say when we did that we showed through what they call drift ftr very sophisticated ftr analysis and quantitative X-ray diffraction that we truly had hit the home run because all of the activating chemicals down to parts per trillion.

    Latest Articles THEEESTORY.COM 2009

  • (Scoresby’s use of the term drift – ice for pieces of ice intermediate in size between floes and brash has, however, quite died out).

    South: the story of Shackleton’s last expedition 1914–1917 2006

  • As those of us who have shot some at long range know, (lack of) wind drift is much more important than an inch or two of flatter trajectory ... not that trajectory is an issue at 3000+ fps.

    What We Can Learn From Lefty 2009

  • How he happened to drift from the western cattle-ranges to New York he did not explain, any more than did he explain how he came to ship on the

    CHAPTER XIV 2010

  • “Our drift is to the south-east, or south-south-east, at the rate of at least two miles an hour.”

    Chapter 27 2010

  • As those of us who have shot some at long range know, (lack of) wind drift is much more important than an inch or two of flatter trajectory ... not that trajectory is an issue at 3000+ fps.

    What We Can Learn From Lefty 2009

  • If anything, Buckingham told me, heart rate should increase over the course of the day—a phenomenon known as “cardiac drift.”

    Why Did an Unofficial Run Across the Country Turn into Running Internet Drama? Martin Fritz Huber 2023


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  • Contronymic in the sense: piled up in place (as snow) vs. in motion, rootless.

    January 27, 2007

  • "Back in the early nineteenth century . . . geologists in Europe and the Great Lakes region of North America began to take note of so-called erratic boulders, which were composed very differently from the local bedrock on which they rested. Monoliths of granite sat, illogically, on limestone; slabs of schist, improbably, on sandstone. The most reasonable interpretation of these foreign rocks, in the context of the contemporary understanding of Earth's history, was that they had been washed in by the waters of the Great Flood of Noah. Geologists called such flotsam "drift," and an early version of the geologic time scale included a period known as the Antediluvian--that is, "before the deluge.""

    -- Stone's Throw, by Marcia Bjornerud, The New Yorker. (

    October 6, 2015

  • Citation on improvided.

    January 19, 2022