from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. One that scavenges, as a person who searches through refuse for food.
  • n. An animal, such as a bird or insect, that feeds on dead or decaying matter.
  • n. Chemistry A substance added to a mixture to remove or inactivate impurities.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A street sweeper.
  • n. Someone who scavenges, especially one who searches through rubbish for food or useful things.
  • n. An animal that feeds on decaying matter such as carrion.
  • n. A substance used to remove impurities from the air or from a solution.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A person whose employment is to clean the streets of a city, by scraping or sweeping, and carrying off the filth. The name is also applied to any animal which devours refuse, carrion, or anything injurious to health.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. An officer whose duty it was to take custom upon the inspection of imported goods, and later also to see that the streets were kept clean. Also scavager.
  • n. Hence A person whose employment is to clean the streets, etc., of a city or the like, by scraping or sweeping together and carrying off the filth.
  • n. In cotton-spinning, a child employed to collect the loose cotton lying about the floor or machinery.
  • n. In entomology, a scavenger-beetle.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. any animal that feeds on refuse and other decaying organic matter
  • n. a chemical agent that is added to a chemical mixture to counteract the effects of impurities
  • n. someone who collects things that have been discarded by others


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

Alteration of Middle English scauager, schavager, official charged with street maintenance, from Anglo-Norman scawager, toll collector, from scawage, a tax on the goods of foreign merchants, from Flemish scauwen, to look at, show.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle English scavager, from Old French scawageour ("one who had to do with scavage, inspector, tax collector"), from Old French *scawage, *scavage, escavage, escauwage ("scavage"), alteration of escauvinghe (compare also Medieval Latin scewinga, sceawinga), from Middle English schewing ("inspection, examination"), from Old English scēawung ("reconnoitering, surveying, inspection, examination, scrutiny"), equivalent to showing.



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  • Variants survive today in slum-ridden megacities like Cairo, Mumbai, and Buenos Aires, but the epitome was early nineteenth-century London, where a scavenger army of tens of thousands of impoverished men, women, and children, each with a defined specialty, scavenged the dregs of the metropolis. There were toshers in the sewers and mudlarks on the riverbanks, rag-pickers atop rubbish heaps and bone-pickers behind kitchens. "Pure-finders" scooped up dog manure for tanneries, dustmen collected ash and night-soil men emptied cesspools. . . . Teeming cities like London and Paris could not have functioned without the ad hoc scavenging system, but the cost was very high. The scavengers worked in filth, and as the investigations of William Farr and John Snow demonstrated, filthy conditions were crucial in the spread of communicable disease.
    Dan Fagin, Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation (New York: Bantam Books, 2014), p. 85

    February 7, 2016