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[skav-in-jer] /ˈskæv ɪn dʒər/
an animal or other organism that feeds on dead organic matter.
a person who searches through and collects items from discarded material.
a street cleaner.
Chemistry. a chemical that consumes or renders inactive the impurities in a mixture.
Origin of scavenger
1520-30; earlier scavager < Anglo-French scawageour, equivalent to (e)scawage inspection (escaw(er) to inspect < Middle Dutch schauwen to look at (cognate with show) + -age -age) + -eour -or2 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for scavenger
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • There was a juiciness about the deed that might have sickened a scavenger.

  • Why, they might just as well be thrown into the gutter and carried off in the scavenger's cart.

  • He is a scavenger, and often gives me fine large sheets of paper.

    The Dragon Painter

    Mary McNeil Fenollosa
  • Not so: if we had only the rain as a scavenger we should be in a sorry plight.

    The History of London Walter Besant
  • Summon some scavenger to collect the vile remains, and bury them in a dung-hill.

    City Crimes Greenhorn
  • It will do for a beginning—the small end of the wedge of my scavenger's business.

  • He was on the way back to the scavenger when the rear tank exploded.

    Gold in the Sky Alan Edward Nourse
  • That Ranger's got homing shells that could blow the scavenger to splinters if we tried it.

    Gold in the Sky Alan Edward Nourse
British Dictionary definitions for scavenger


a person who collects things discarded by others
any animal that feeds on decaying organic matter, esp on refuse
a substance added to a chemical reaction or mixture to counteract the effect of impurities
a person employed to clean the streets
Derived Forms
scavengery, noun
Word Origin
C16: from Anglo-Norman scawager, from Old Norman French escauwage examination, from escauwer to scrutinize, of Germanic origin; related to Flemish scauwen
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for scavenger

1540s, originally "person hired to remove refuse from streets," from Middle English scawageour (late 14c.), London official in charge of collecting tax on goods sold by foreign merchants, from Anglo-French scawager, from scawage "toll or duty on goods offered for sale in one's precinct" (c.1400), from Old North French escauwage "inspection," from a Germanic source (cf. Old High German scouwon, Old English sceawian "to look at, inspect;" see show (v.)).

It has come to be regarded as an agent noun in -er, but the verb is a late back-formation from the noun. With intrusive -n- (c.1500) as in harbinger, passenger, messenger. Extended to animals 1590s. Scavenger hunt is attested from 1937.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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scavenger in Science
An animal that feeds on dead organisms, especially a carnivorous animal that eats dead animals rather than or in addition to hunting live prey. Vultures, hyenas, and wolves are scavengers.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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