Webster 1913 misses an important nautical use for this term.

In wooden ship construction, a drift is an inexpensive fastener used to hold large blocks of wood together permanently.  They are long (sometimes more than a yard long) wooden or metal rods, hammered deep into both pieces of wood.  They fasten together pieces of wood that will never be separated through the lifetime of the ship:  big keel timbers, or planks edge-set to make rudders, centerboards, or hatches.

Drifts can be cut from lengths of soft metal rod (rebar would be nice if it weren't iron), with barbs quickly knocked into the sides with a cold chisel.  They can also be rough-cut wooden dowels, without any special effort given to rounding off, although a broom handle will do in a pinch.  Installing a wooden drift (aka 'treenail') is literally banging a square peg into a round hole.

Drifts are decidedly low-tech, but they work:  Friction on the sides of each pin holds the pieces of wood together snugly.   When the wood gets wet, it swells up and the drifts are held in that much more tightly.

   _         _         _
   \\        \\        \\
    \\        \\        \\
     \\        \\        \\
       \\        \\        \\
        \\        \\        \\
         \\        \\        \\
          -         -         -

Several drifts can be set into a line, but always at the same angle.   It's geometrically impossible to set drifts at different angles before putting the two timbers together, and while it is theoretically possible to drill in from the other side of one of the timbers afterwards and set another line of drifts at right angles to the first, the swelling of the wood would then make the drifts tear the timbers apart.

Drifting is the act of intentionaly causing your car to oversteer, usually just for the fun of it. Drifting is shown a lot in the movies because it's very impressive, even though it accomplishes little. The Japanese have an entire sport built up around drifting competitions, in which racers drive around a racetrack hanging the tail out on most of the turns. Like most fads purported by ricers as being fast, sliding around a track like drifters do is not a quick way to get around said track.

I mentioned ricers because they are all over drifting like a donkey on a waffle. They think that it's the coolest thing to go along with their silly front wheel drive four bangers. Unfortunately, drifting doesn't work very will if your car is propelled by the front wheels. One of the major drifting techniques is using the throttle to induce the rear wheels into loosing grip by making them spin. In a front wheel drive car, you can't just mash the throttle to do this. The only things you're left with are drop-throttle oversteer and pulling the handbrake in order to get your oversteer fix.

“Drift” is an interesting English word, because it is a word that has evolved to be the opposite of its origin word, being a type of autoantonym.

According to the online etymology dictionary, “drift” is either cognate with, or derived from, a number of Germanic words, all related to the English word “drive”. The English word “Drive”, itself, has changed meaning because its most common modern usage is “to pilot an automobile”, but its original meanings centered around pushing or moving something.

Starting in the early 1300s, “drift” picked up meanings over the years, and not necessarily in the order that someone would guess. The meaning of “a general aim” dates to the 1500s, the meaning of a “off course ship” comes from the 1600s, and the meaning of “passively moving through life” comes from the 1800s. Applying it to race cars, of course, only came in the 1900s.

The drift in meaning of the word means that its modern usage usually refers to something that is moving slowly, or moving without motivation of its own. On the other hand, the related word “driven” usually refers to someone who is strongly self-motivated. Thus, we have “He is just drifting through life” (where drift is a present continuous verb) to mean an unmotivated person, and “He is driven to succeed” (where “driven” is an adjective) to mean a strongly motivated person.

Language does things like that.

Drift (?), n. [From drive; akin to LG. & D. drift a driving, Icel. drift snowdrift, Dan. drift, impulse, drove, herd, pasture, common, G. trift pasturage, drove. See Drive.]


A driving; a violent movement.

The dragon drew him [self] away with drift of his wings.
King Alisaunder (1332).


The act or motion of drifting; the force which impels or drives; an overpowering influence or impulse.

A bad man, being under the drift of any passion, will follow the impulse of it till something interpose.


Course or direction along which anything is driven; setting. "Our drift was south." Hakluyt.


The tendency of an act, argument, course of conduct, or the like; object aimed at or intended; intention; hence, also, import or meaning of a sentence or discourse; aim.

He has made the drift of the whole poem a compliment on his country in general.

Now thou knowest my drift.
Sir W. Scott.


That which is driven, forced, or urged along; as:


Anything driven at random. "Some log . . . a useless drift." Dryden.


A mass of matter which has been driven or forced onward together in a body, or thrown together in a heap, etc., esp. by wind or water; as, a drift of snow, of ice, of sand, and the like.

Drifts of rising dust involve the sky.

We got the brig a good bed in the rushing drift [of ice].


A drove or flock, as of cattle, sheep, birds. [Obs.]

Cattle coming over the bridge (with their great drift doing much damage to the high ways).

6. (Arch.)

The horizontal thrust or pressure of an arch or vault upon the abutments. [R.] Knight.

7. (Geol.)

A collection of loose earth and rocks, or boulders, which have been distributed over large portions of the earth's surface, especially in latitudes north of forty degrees, by the agency of ice.


In South Africa, a ford in a river.

9. (Mech.)

A slightly tapered tool of steel for enlarging or shaping a hole in metal, by being forced or driven into or through it; a broach.

10. (Mil.)


A tool used in driving down compactly the composition contained in a rocket, or like firework.


A deviation from the line of fire, peculiar to oblong projectiles.

11. (Mining)

A passage driven or cut between shaft and shaft; a driftway; a small subterranean gallery; an adit or tunnel.

12. (Naut.)


The distance through which a current flows in a given time.


The angle which the line of a ship's motion makes with the meridian, in drifting.


The distance to which a vessel is carried off from her desired course by the wind, currents, or other causes.


The place in a deep-waisted vessel where the sheer is raised and the rail is cut off, and usually terminated with a scroll, or driftpiece.


The distance between the two blocks of a tackle.


The difference between the size of a bolt and the hole into which it is driven, or between the circumference of a hoop and that of the mast on which it is to be driven.

Drift is used also either adjectively or as the first part of a compound. See Drift, a.

Drift of the forest (O. Eng. Law), an examination or view of the cattle in a forest, in order to see whose they are, whether they are commonable, and to determine whether or not the forest is surcharged. Burrill.


© Webster 1913

Drift, v. i. [imp. & p. p. Drifted; p. pr. & vb. n. Drifting.]


To float or be driven along by, or as by, a current of water or air; as, the ship drifted astern; a raft drifted ashore; the balloon drifts slowly east.

We drifted o'er the harbor bar.


To accumulate in heaps by the force of wind; to be driven into heaps; as, snow or sand drifts.

3. (mining)

to make a drift; to examine a vein or ledge for the purpose of ascertaining the presence of metals or ores; to follow a vein; to prospect. [U.S.]


© Webster 1913

Drift (?), v. t.


To drive or carry, as currents do a floating body. J. H. Newman.


To drive into heaps; as, a current of wind drifts snow or sand.

3. (Mach.)

To enlarge or shape, as a hole, with a drift.


© Webster 1913

Drift, a.

That causes drifting or that is drifted; movable by wind or currents; as, drift currents; drift ice; drift mud. Kane.

Drift anchor. See Sea anchor, and also Drag sail, under Drag, n. - - Drift epoch (Geol.), the glacial epoch. --
Drift net, a kind of fishing net. --
Drift sail. Same as Drag sail. See under Drag, n.


© Webster 1913

Drift, n.

1. (Phys. Geog.)

One of the slower movements of oceanic circulation; a general tendency of the water, subject to occasional or frequent diversion or reversal by the wind; as, the easterly drift of the North Pacific.

2. (Aëronautics)

The horizontal component of the pressure of the air on the sustaining surfaces of a flying machine. The lift is the corresponding vertical component, which sustains the machine in the air.


© Webster 1913

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