can·​ni·​bal·​ism | \ˈka-nə-bə-ˌli-zəm \

Definition of cannibalism 

1 : the usually ritualistic eating of human flesh by a human being

2 : the eating of the flesh of an animal by another animal of the same kind

3 : an act of cannibalizing something

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from cannibalism

cannibalistic \ˌka-​nə-​bə-​ˈlis-​tik \ adjective

Examples of cannibalism in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

There’s a really powerful category of recent films about teenage girls coming of age through cannibalism, vampirism, or other body-mutating horrors. Jacob Kastrenakes, The Verge, "New trailers: Detective Pikachu, Toy Story 4, and more," 17 Nov. 2018 Nutrition Laugh: James Cole, for calculating that the caloric intake from a human-cannibalism diet is significantly lower than the caloric intake from most other traditional meat diets. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "Here are your 2018 Ig Nobel Prize winners," 13 Sep. 2018 One remote tribe, the Fore people of Papua New Guinea, experienced an epidemic of the disease in the 1950s by practicing a form of ritualistic cannibalism. Avery Thompson, Popular Mechanics, "A Man Contracted a Rare, Fatal Disease From Eating Squirrel Brains," 17 Oct. 2018 Someone who's interested in studying the rare cases of cannibalism throughout history, that's who—not just in modern humans but also in fossil remains from the Paleolithic era. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "Here are your 2018 Ig Nobel Prize winners," 13 Sep. 2018 One woman discussed discovering her father was into cannibalism. Trevor Fraser,, "Kevin Allison gets Risk-y in Orlando," 8 June 2018 Only five returned alive and rumors of cannibalism dogged them for the rest of their lives. Anchorage Daily News, "In ‘To the Ends of the Earth,’ an ambitious attempt to encompass era of polar exploration," 7 July 2018 But that argument is tough to reconcile with the fact that Facebook’s own internal guidelines ban so very many bad things, from cannibalism to infant abuse. Issie Lapowsky, WIRED, "Tusks, Horns, and Claws: The Fight to Dismantle the Facebook Animal Parts Bazaar," 5 June 2018 Raft of the Medusa JAY-Z steps briefly in front of Théodore Géricault’s extraordinary Raft of the Medusa (1818-1819) a painting based on the true events of a shipwreck involving sharks and cannibalism. Peter Mikelbank,, "Inside Beyoncé and JAY-Z's 'Apes—': A Guide to All the Art in the Epic Music Video," 20 June 2018

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

See More

First Known Use of cannibalism

1796, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about cannibalism

Share cannibalism

Statistics for cannibalism

Last Updated

2 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for cannibalism

The first known use of cannibalism was in 1796

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for cannibalism


can·​ni·​bal·​ism | \-bə-ˌliz-əm \

Medical Definition of cannibalism 

1 : the usually ritualistic eating of human flesh by a human being

2 : the eating of the flesh or the eggs of any animal by its own kind

3 : the pecking and tearing of the live flesh of its own members in a domestic poultry flock — compare pecking order

4 : oral sadism

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on cannibalism

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with cannibalism

Spanish Central: Translation of cannibalism

Nglish: Translation of cannibalism for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of cannibalism for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about cannibalism

Comments on cannibalism

What made you want to look up cannibalism? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to move with a clumsy heavy tread

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Late Autumn 2018 Words of the Day Quiz

  • frosted-autumn-leaves
  • Which is a synonym of yahoo?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!