van reymerswaele

When angry taxpayers liken the Internal Revenue Service to “vultures,” they’re actually making a deep linguistic connection.

During the Middle Ages, English officials would charge a tax on non-resident merchants who sold goods on the streets. This duty was known as a scavage (after a Middle French word meaning “to inspect”); the tax-collectors were scavagers.

Over time, those scavagers expanded their duties to cleaning the streets of dirt and debris. Scavager became scavenger.

image: Marinus Van Reymerswaele, The Tax Collectors, c. 1540s