scav·​en·​ger | \ ˈska-vən-jər How to pronounce scavenger (audio) \

Definition of scavenger

1 chiefly British : a person employed to remove dirt and refuse from streets
2 : one that scavenges: such as
a : a garbage collector
b : a junk collector
c : a chemically active substance acting to make innocuous or remove an undesirable substance
3 : an organism that typically feeds on refuse or carrion

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Did You Know?

You might guess that "scavenger" is a derivative of "scavenge," but the reverse is actually true; "scavenger" is the older word, first appearing in English in 1530, and the back-formation "scavenge" came into English in the mid-17th century. "Scavenger" is an alteration of the earlier "scavager," itself from Anglo-French scawageour, meaning "collector of scavage." In medieval times, "scavage" was a tax levied by towns and cities on goods put up for sale by nonresidents, in order to provide resident merchants with a competitive advantage. The officers in charge of collecting this tax were later made responsible for keeping streets clean, and that's how "scavenger" came to refer to a public sanitation employee in Great Britain before acquiring its current sense referring to a person who salvages discarded items.

Examples of scavenger in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The carnival has created three scavenger hunts, which small groups can complete with an app. Shannon Prather, Star Tribune, "St. Paul Winter Carnival revamps events to foil COVID-19," 28 Dec. 2020 The story follows two young women in a post-apocalyptic America, where scavenger communities battle for territory and dwindling resources. Simon Parkin, The New Yorker, "The Best Video Games of 2020," 18 Dec. 2020 More low-key games like scavenger hunts and tag might be more appropriate for families with younger kids. Matt Villano, CNN, "10 outdoor game ideas for the whole family," 16 Dec. 2020 Hailee Steinfeld is something of a beauty scavenger. Lauren Valenti, Vogue, "Hailee Steinfeld’s Guide to Glowing Skin and Easy Everyday Makeup," 2 Dec. 2020 With no parades from which to toss throws, some suggested that krewes could conceive coronavirus-safe scavenger hunts that would use online clues to guide seekers to small treasures hidden in the cityscape. Doug Maccash | Staff Writer,, "Hot air balloons? Throw sales? Deadline for more Mardi Gras ideas is Saturday at midnight," 4 Dec. 2020 Heritage Village at Chestnut Square presents an outdoor, old-fashioned holiday festival with caroling and other music, craft workshops, scavenger hunts, a marketplace, reindeer feeding and concessions for sale. Shannon Sutlief, Dallas News, "Holiday festivals and lightings throughout North Texas," 19 Nov. 2020 Officials urged people instead to focus on safe activities like pumpkin carving, home decorating, outdoor scavenger hunts and virtual costume parties. Denise Lavoie, Star Tribune, "Halloween in the pandemic: Costumes and candy, at a distance," 31 Oct. 2020 Instead, people are advised to have virtual parties, attend drive-in events, walk or drive around their neighborhoods to look at decorations or hold at-home scavenger hunts. Alex Wigglesworth, Los Angeles Times, "L.A. County reports 1,326 coronavirus cases and 15 deaths, urges people to avoid Halloween gatherings," 31 Oct. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'scavenger.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of scavenger

1530, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for scavenger

alteration of earlier scavager, from Anglo-French scawageour collector of scavage (duty collected from non-resident street merchants), from skawage scavage, from Middle French dialect (Flanders) escauver to inspect, from Middle Dutch scouwen; akin to Old English scēawian to look at — more at show

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The first known use of scavenger was in 1530

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Last Updated

8 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Scavenger.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for scavenger


scav·​en·​ger | \ ˈska-vən-jər How to pronounce scavenger (audio) \

Kids Definition of scavenger

1 : a person who picks over junk or garbage for useful items
2 : an animal (as a vulture) that feeds on dead or decaying material

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