can·​ker | \ ˈkaŋ-kər How to pronounce canker (audio) \

Definition of canker

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a(1) : an erosive or spreading sore
(2) : an area of necrosis in a plant also : a plant disease characterized by cankers Citrus canker is caused by bacteria.
b : any of various disorders of animals marked by chronic inflammatory changes
2 archaic : a caterpillar destructive to plants
3 chiefly dialectal : rust sense 1
4 : a source of corruption or debasement suspicion is a canker that … will consume and waste all love— R. Sibbes
5 chiefly dialectal : dog rose


cankered; cankering\ ˈkaŋ-​k(ə-​)riŋ How to pronounce canker (audio) \

Definition of canker (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 obsolete : to infect with a spreading sore
2 : to corrupt the spirit of a relationship cankered by jealousy

intransitive verb

1 : to become infested with canker
2 : to become corrupted

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Other Words from canker


cankerous \ ˈkaŋ-​k(ə-​)rəs How to pronounce canker (audio) \ adjective

Did You Know?


Canker is commonly known as the name for a type of spreading sore that eats into the tissue-a use that obviously furnished the verb with both its medical and figurative senses. The word ultimately traces back to Latin cancer, which can refer to a crab or a malignant tumor. The Greeks have a similar word, "karkinos," and according to the Ancient Greek physician Galen the tumor got its name from the way the swollen veins surrounding the affected part resembled a crab's limbs. "Cancer" was adopted into Old English, becoming "canker" in Middle English and eventually shifting in meaning to become a general term for ulcerations. "Cancer" itself was reintroduced to English later, first as a zodiacal word and then as a medical term.

Examples of canker in a Sentence

Verb such shameless ambulance chasing cankers the legal profession
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Then small patches of polyp tissue started to die, like spreading canker sores. Elizabeth Svoboda, Scientific American, "Will Probiotics Save Corals or Harm Them?," 1 May 2021 To avoid spreading diseases such as dogwood canker, take care to disinfect your pruners. Beth Botts,, "Bright dogwood bark gets its most vivid coloring with frequent pruning," 28 Feb. 2021 Bacterial canker is the main threat to the tree’s survival, as infected trees may only last 10 years. Calvin Finch,, "Your guide to growing peach trees in your San Antonio backyard," 15 Jan. 2021 These include ganoderma applanatum, large bracket mushrooms that cause wood decay; armillaria, a fungal root-rot; phytophthora, a destructive water mold and hypoxylon, a fast-growing fungal canker. Juhi Varma, Houston Chronicle, "Houston arborist discusses tree care tips during storms, hurricanes," 28 Sep. 2020 Dieback results from a canker somewhere along the stem. oregonlive, "How to get rid of squash bugs? Ask an expert," 1 Aug. 2020 The canker blocks the flow of nutrients to the branch. oregonlive, "How to get rid of squash bugs? Ask an expert," 1 Aug. 2020 Drought, flooding and winter injury can leave elderberry plants open to canker-causing fungi. oregonlive, "Need tips on best choices for plants used as hedges? Ask an expert," 23 May 2020 If your plum tree is bleeding sap, it may be affected by canker, or by other forms of fungal or bacterial diseases, like pseudomonas. oregonlive, "Is bacterial canker damaging this plum tree? Ask an expert," 20 Dec. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Start by removing all blighted twigs and cankered branches 6 to 10 inches below the edge of visible infection. Tim Johnson,, "How to fight fire blight in crabapple trees," 1 Aug. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'canker.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of canker


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a(1)


14th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

History and Etymology for canker

Noun and Verb

Middle English, from Anglo-French cancre, chancre, from Latin cancer crab, cancer

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Time Traveler for canker

Time Traveler

The first known use of canker was before the 12th century

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Last Updated

6 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Canker.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for canker



English Language Learners Definition of canker

: something that causes bad things to happen
: any of various plant diseases


can·​ker | \ ˈkaŋ-kər How to pronounce canker (audio) \

Medical Definition of canker

1a(1) : an erosive or spreading sore
(2) obsolete : gangrene
2a : a chronic inflammation of the ear in dogs, cats, or rabbits especially : a localized form of mange
b : a chronic and progressive inflammation of the deep horn-producing tissues of the frog and sole of the hooves of horses resulting in softening and destruction of the horny layers

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