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 cankering (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 cankerous (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 Scientists use a gene from bread wheat that produces an enzyme called oxalate oxidase, which prevents the fungus from forming cankers on plant stems. Hank Campbell, WSJ, "Science Saves an Old Chestnut," 19 June 2019 Please read more about incense-cedar branch canker and what to do about it at this link., "Can you identify this fabulous little bee? Ask an expert," 10 Aug. 2019 However, sometimes infections on stems cause cankers and wilting (clematis wilt) or fatally get into the crown. Ellen Nibali,, "Garden Q&A: My clematis has spots and what is this blue worm-like thing?," 3 July 2019 Zaranti said the winter burn should not be confused with boxwood blight, a disease characterized by leaf spots, stem cankers and defoliation. Suzanne Baker, Naperville Sun, "Polar vortex blamed for browning boxwoods and other trees, shrubs," 9 June 2019 If irrigation water is hitting the trunk then if could be Phytophthora canker., "Tips for success when planting under conifer and maple trees? Ask an expert," 8 June 2019 On sycamores, the disease often infects branches, causing girdling cankers and dieback. Tim Johnson,, "Fungal diseases may be cause of brown spots on tree leaves," 26 June 2018 Any trees that are affected year after year or develop cankers will be weakened. Tim Johnson,, "Fungal diseases may be cause of brown spots on tree leaves," 26 June 2018 Cytospora canker is a disease of mature spruce trees, usually older than 15 years. Beth Botts,, "Have a dying spruce tree? Fungus may be the culprit," 23 May 2018 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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Cite this Entry

“Canker.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 7 December 2019.

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More Definitions for canker


How to pronounce canker (audio)

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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More from Merriam-Webster on canker

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for canker

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with canker

Spanish Central: Translation of canker

Nglish: Translation of canker for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about canker

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