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

Between 2016 and 2018, up to 123 manual scavengers have died on the job, data from the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK), a statutory body set up by an act of Parliament for the welfare of sanitation workers, showed. Niharika Sharma, Quartz India, "India’s most demeaning job killed over 100 people in two years, but is anyone bothered?," 28 June 2019 If an animal was only partially buried and subsequently frozen, for example, the rest of its body could have decomposed or been eaten by scavengers. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian, "A Perfectly Preserved 32,000-Year-Old Wolf Head Was Found in Siberian Permafrost," 15 June 2019 Tom Waits as Hermit Bob, a long-hair dropout resembling Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion, is a homeless scavenger and community pet who embodies the oxymoron Democratic Socialist. Armond White, National Review, "The Dead Don’t Die: Climate-Change Comedy for the Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez Era," 14 June 2019 His freelance work as a construction-equipment scavenger takes him back and forth across the militarized border, where not one but two fortified walls now loom over the Rio Grande. Julian Lucas, Harper's magazine, "New Books," 10 May 2019 Once the seal had his fill, van Neer quickly collected the carcass to document the tears and damage, before scavengers could get to it. Bethany Augliere, National Geographic, "Cannibalism is more common than thought in gray seals," 24 Apr. 2019 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

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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Statistics for scavenger

Last Updated

7 Jul 2019

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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

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