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 sounds of the reef attracted a wide range of fish from across the food web, including scavengers, herbivores, and predatory fish, according to the Washington Post. Jennifer Leman, Popular Mechanics, "The Best Way to Save Dying Coral Reefs: Bring Out the Loudspeakers," 2 Dec. 2019 Back to prehistoric times Wynne also thinks — with no supporting evidence at this point — the genetic mutation goes back to 10,000 years ago when dogs were scavengers, living amid the trash piles created by our ancestors. Scott Craven, azcentral, "You know your dog loves you. Now an ASU psychologist says he has scientific proof," 11 Nov. 2019 There weren’t working camera systems in place to detect any suspicious activity, such as scavengers removing materials. Talia Richman,, "Baltimore’s public works department sat on $5.6 million for more than a decade, audit finds," 6 Nov. 2019 When the sharks died there, the limited water circulation and low oxygen levels created an environment in which their bodies were largely left alone by bacteria, scavengers, and currents, preserving them for posterity. Tim Vernimmen, National Geographic, "Amazing fossil shark skeleton is the first of its kind," 1 Oct. 2019 Forsythe is intellectually voracious—a kind of theory scavenger, who, over the years, has drawn from fields including philosophy, physics, semiotics, and the visual arts. Jennifer Homans, The New Yorker, "William Forsythe’s Self-Portrait in Absentia," 30 Sep. 2019 This fair, one of the state’s biggest, celebrates 100 years Sept. 26 to 29 at 24 Town House Road with Little River Band, the Great Lakes Timber Show with chainsaw carving and axe throwing, a selfie competition and a city hunt scavenger challenge. Courant Staff,, "Best bets: Things to do this week," 22 Sep. 2019 The Force Awakens moment at Starkiller Base where orphaned scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) Force-grabs Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber away from Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is a moment of joyous surprise that had theater audiences bursting into applause. James Hibberd,, "The Force Awakens writer explains why Rey could Force-grab Luke's lightsaber," 20 Nov. 2019 The clothes' tattered condition suggested that they, like the skull and loose bones, had been removed from the body by scavengers. Wired, "The Strange Life and Mysterious Death of a Virtuoso Coder," 14 Nov. 2019

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 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Scavenger.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 13 December 2019.

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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

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What made you want to look up scavenger? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


easily led, controlled, or managed

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