can·​ni·​bal·​ize | \ ˈka-nə-bə-ˌlīz How to pronounce cannibalize (audio) \
cannibalized; cannibalizing

Definition of cannibalize

transitive verb

1a : to take salvageable parts from (something, such as a disabled machine) for use in building or repairing another machine
b : to make use of (a part taken from one thing) in building, repairing, or creating something else
2 : to deprive of an essential part or element in creating or sustaining another facility or enterprise the energy system has begun cannibalizing the economic system it is supposed to fuel— Barry Commoner
3 : to use or draw on material of (another writer, an earlier work, etc.) a biography that cannibalizes previous biographies
4 : to take (sales) away from an existing product by selling or being sold as a similar but new product usually from the same manufacturer also : to affect (something, such as an existing product) adversely by cannibalizing sales
5 astronomy, of a celestial object : to incorporate mass from (a nearby object) through gravitational attraction But some stellar black holes make themselves known because they exist in a binary systems as the companion to a normal star, which they are cannibalizing.— John Noble Wilford

intransitive verb

1 : to practice cannibalism
2 : to cannibalize one unit for the sake of another of the same kind

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from cannibalize

cannibalization \ ˌka-​nə-​bə-​lə-​ˈzā-​shən How to pronounce cannibalize (audio) \ noun

Did You Know?

During World War II, military personnel often used salvageable parts from disabled vehicles and aircraft to repair other vehicles and aircraft. This sacrifice of one thing for the sake of another of its kind must have reminded some folks of cannibalism by humans and animals, because the process came to be known as cannibalizing. The armed forces of this time were also known to cannibalize-that is, to take away personnel from-units to build up other units. It didn't take long for this military slang to become civilianized. Since its demobilization, the term has been used in a variety of contexts.

Examples of cannibalize in a Sentence

He cannibalized one washing machine to fix another. Many parts of the engine were cannibalized from older cars.
Recent Examples on the Web Those visions, in turn, often cannibalize content from portals similar to themselves—refashioned, rehashed, refreshed, sometimes airbrushed, sometimes poisoned. Kc Cole, Wired, "The Shaky Ground Truths of Wikipedia," 9 Mar. 2021 Retiring some of the B-1Bs will allow the Air Force to cannibalize them for spare parts, many of which are no longer available. Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, "The Air Force Has Begun Sending the B-1 to the Boneyard," 22 Feb. 2021 If streaming was destined to partially cannibalize movie-going, that process was hastened, though the extent to which those effects are temporary -- as opposed to permanently taking root -- remains to be seen. Brian Lowry, CNN, "Streaming TV and movies became a flood in 2020. But that comes at a cost," 14 Dec. 2020 The universities want to have the discretion to prevent said athletes from cutting agreements that would cannibalize any of their own sponsorship deals. John Canzano, oregonlive, "Canzano: Twitter yard sale by former Oregon Duck underscores the NCAA’s looming problem," 16 Jan. 2021 Many in the Donner Party refused to cannibalize at the cost of their lives. Cody Cassidy, Wired, "The Case for Cannibalism, or: How to Survive the Donner Party," 13 Jan. 2021 But there are downsides, especially if sales made through Amazon or Instagram cannibalize the more profitable transactions that happen on a label’s own website. Carol Ryan, WSJ, "To Sell Luxury Online, Deep Pockets Matter More Than Ever," 11 Dec. 2020 The Big Ten and ACC, with six teams each in the Top 25, and the Big 12 (with five) will cannibalize each other. Bryce Miller Columnist, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Column: Could Aztecs basketball run the regular-season table?," 12 Dec. 2020 Notably, critics worried that launching breakfast would cannibalize its lunch and dinner sales. Jordan Valinsky, CNN, "Here are the fast food winners and losers for breakfast," 14 Nov. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'cannibalize.' 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 cannibalize

1873, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about cannibalize

Time Traveler for cannibalize

Time Traveler

The first known use of cannibalize was in 1873

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about cannibalize

Statistics for cannibalize

Last Updated

3 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Cannibalize.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 May. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for cannibalize



English Language Learners Definition of cannibalize

: to remove parts from a machine, car, etc., to repair or build another one

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on cannibalize

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


Test Your Vocabulary

Star Wars Words Quiz

  • cu jedi training
  • The bounty portion of bounty hunters (such as Boba Fett) comes from a Latin word meaning
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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