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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. 2016.
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Examples from the Web for scavengers
Historical Examples
  • One of those most known is that of Pariahs; they are subject to labour of agriculture and to the filthiest duty of scavengers.

    Ten Years in India W.J.D. Gould
  • They are the scavengers of the sea in their way, just as the crocodiles are of the great rivers.

    Jack at Sea George Manville Fenn
  • Three weeks before a jailer struck one of the scavengers who had spilt some soup over his new uniform.

    Resurrection Leo Tolstoy
  • They are useful as acting the part of scavengers to the stream they inhabit.

    Mark Seaworth William H.G. Kingston
  • If scavengers are helpful, then he is a useful member of society.

    Watched by Wild Animals Enos A. Mills
  • The hyena and the vulture are the scavengers of the tropical regions.

    The Mission; or Scenes in Africa Captain Frederick Marryat
  • In Spain, it is true, vultures serve a useful office as scavengers; yet in modern Europe they surely seem an anachronism.

  • In some towns, they are employed by the sanitary department as scavengers.

  • The scavengers are mentioned by Stow at the end of his account of each City ward along with other officers.

  • “Empress of scavengers” was M. Mohl's title for her at this time.

British Dictionary definitions for scavengers


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 scavengers



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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scavengers 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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