noun scav·en·ger \ˈska-vən-jər\

Definition of scavenger

  1. 1 chiefly British :  a person employed to remove dirt and refuse from streets

  2. 2 :  one that scavenges: such asa :  a garbage collectorb :  a junk collectorc :  a chemically active substance acting to make innocuous or remove an undesirable substance

  3. 3 :  an organism that typically feeds on refuse or carrion

scavenger was our Word of the Day on 05/05/2014. Hear the podcast!

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.

Origin and Etymology of 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

First Known Use: 1530

SCAVENGER Defined for Kids


noun scav·en·ger \ˈska-vən-jər\

Definition of scavenger for Students

  1. 1 :  a person who picks over junk or garbage for useful items

  2. 2 :  an animal (as a vulture) that feeds on dead or decaying material

Seen and Heard

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a trip made at another's expense

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