1. an animal or other organism that feeds on dead organic matter.
  2. a person who searches through and collects items from discarded material.
  3. a street cleaner.
  4. 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 Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for scavengers

hunter, scrounger, rat, hyena, vulture, magpie, scrounge

Examples from the Web for scavengers

Historical Examples of scavengers

  • It is said that they do useful service as scavengers of the harbor.

    Days Off

    Henry Van Dyke

  • But in a few hours there were other scavengers of the sea at hand which were afraid of nothing.

    Swept Out to Sea

    W. Bertram Foster

  • 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

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

    Mark Seaworth

    William H.G. Kingston

  • The swine that ran at large in the streets, practically the only scavengers, were banished.

British Dictionary definitions for scavengers


  1. a person who collects things discarded by others
  2. any animal that feeds on decaying organic matter, esp on refuse
  3. a substance added to a chemical reaction or mixture to counteract the effect of impurities
  4. a person employed to clean the streets
Derived Formsscavengery, noun

Word Origin for scavenger

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

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

scavengers in Science


  1. 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 © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.