Etymology
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drift (n.)

early 14c., literally "a being driven" (at first of snow, rain, etc.); not recorded in Old English, it is either a suffixed form of drive (v.) (compare thrift/thrive) or borrowed from Old Norse drift "snow drift," or Middle Dutch drift "pasturage, drove, flock," both from Proto-Germanic *driftiz (source also of Danish and Swedish drift, German Trift), from PIE root *dhreibh- "to drive, push" (see drive (v.)).

"A being driven," hence "anything driven," especially a number of things or a heap of matter driven or moving together (mid-15c.). Figurative sense of "aim, intention, what one is getting at" (on the notion of "course, tendency") is from 1520s. Nautical sense of "deviation of a ship from its course in consequence of currents" is from 1670s. Meaning "controlled slide of a sports car" attested by 1955.

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drift (v.)

late 16c., "to float or be driven along by a current," from drift (n.). Transitive sense of "to drive in heaps" is from 1610s. Figurative sense of "be passive and listless" is from 1822. Related: Drifted; drifting. To drift apart "gradually lose mutual affection" is by 1859.

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drift-net (n.)

"gill net, held upright in water by floats and extended by weights below, that drifts with the tides," 1660s, from drift (v.) + net (n.).

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driftwood (n.)

"wood floating on water," 1630s, from drift (v.) + wood (n.).

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adrift (adv.)
"floating at random, at the mercy of currents," 1620s, from a- (1) "on" + drift (n.). Figurative use by 1680s.
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drifter (n.)

1864, as a mining term for one who excavates "drifts" (in the specialized sense of "horizontal passages"); by 1883 as "boat fishing with drift-nets;" agent noun from drift (v.). Meaning "vagrant, man following an aimless way of life" is from 1908.

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spindrift (n.)
spray of salt water blown along the surf of the sea in heavy winds, c. 1600, Scottish formation from verb spene, alteration of spoon "to sail before the wind" (1570s, of uncertain origin) + drift (n.). "Common in English writers from c 1880, probably at first under the influence of W. Black's novels" [OED].
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leeway (n.)
also lee-way, 1660s, "sideways drift of a ship in her course caused by wind, deviation from true course by drifting to leeward," from lee + way (n.). Applied to loss of progress in general from 1827. Figurative meaning "extra space" is by 1835.
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stray (n.)
"domestic animal found wandering," early 13c., from Anglo-French noun use of Old French estraié "strayed, riderless," past-participle adjective from estraier "to roam, drift, run loose" (see stray (v.)).
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