Word curio icon

Word Curio

May 23, 2019

Word of the Day: Scavenger

2 CQ

Word of the Day : May 23, 2019

scavenger \SKAV-un-jer\ noun


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

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 the early 16th century, 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.

Aired May 23, 2019

All Merriam-Webster content is available at

  • Recommended Recommended
  • History & In Progress History
  • Browse Library
  • Most Popular Library

Get Personalized Recommendations

Let us help you figure out what to learn! By taking a short interview you’ll be able to specify your learning interests and goals, so we can recommend the perfect courses and lessons to try next.

Start Interview

You don't have any lessons in your history.
Just find something that looks interesting and start learning!

500 characters max