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 money, it's later found, was hidden in a bale of cotton that was lost from a getaway vehicle, and a local scavenger picks it up. Dave Lewis,, "11 blaxploitation movies that helped define the genre," 8 June 2018 Police can be seen chasing scavengers through the streets. Todd Pitman, Fox News, "AP WAS THERE: 2013 typhoon kills thousands in Philippines," 15 Sep. 2018 There was talk of crudely gnawed-upon limbs and faces missing eyes, noses, livers, shreds of skin barely hanging on to some clavicle kicked away by anxious scavengers. Chicago Tribune,, "Algren Award runner-up: "Fluid Mechanics" by Mabel Yu," 2 June 2018 Ten percent goes into household garbage, 40 percent ends up with scavengers and unregistered recyclers, 10 percent is shipped abroad as functioning secondhand equipment, and 5 percent is exported illegally. Peter Ford, The Christian Science Monitor, "'E-waste': Getting grip on a growing global problem," 9 July 2018 Just across the street from Zakhar Zakharich lies Dry Bridge, where collectors, antique vendors and craftsmen set up shop for the Dry Bridge Flea Market, a scavenger’s wonderland of Perestroika plunder. Debra Kamin, New York Times, "36 Hours in Tbilisi," 7 June 2018 Life on the edge is the theme that binds rare-book scavengers, puppet quests, risqué comedy and high-wire improv in this week’s selections from some of L.A.’s adventurous smaller theaters. Philip Brandes,, "The 99-Seat Beat: French Stewart, 'Pinocchio' reimagined and 'Dorothy Parker UnScripted'," 11 May 2018 But that approach is failing as the number of scavengers declines and the amount of household waste rises. Michael Holtz, The Christian Science Monitor, "Beijing gets tough on trash," 5 July 2018 But rope is still an essential tool for survival, whether it’s for stringing food away from bears, drying clothes, or binding a pesky scavenger. John Wenz, Popular Mechanics, "16 Tools You Need When You Live Off the Grid," 3 July 2018

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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Time Traveler for scavenger

The first known use of scavenger was in 1530

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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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More from Merriam-Webster on scavenger

Spanish Central: Translation of scavenger

Nglish: Translation of scavenger for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of scavenger for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about scavenger

Comments on scavenger

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a strong desire or propensity

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