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

transitive verb

: to take salvageable parts from (something, such as a disabled machine) for use in building or repairing another machine
: to make use of (a part taken from one thing) in building, repairing, or creating something else
: 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 fuelBarry Commoner
: to use or draw on material of (another writer, an earlier work, etc.)
a biography that cannibalizes previous biographies
: 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
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

: to practice cannibalism
: to cannibalize one unit for the sake of another of the same kind
cannibalization 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 In the world of supplemental Jewish learning (synagogue schools), bar/bat mitzvah has cannibalized Jewish education. The Salt Lake Tribune, 7 Sep. 2023 Like a social media app cannibalizing key features from a competitor, Travis has become known for assimilating the qualities of others and assuming them as his own, the rap version of Rogue from X-Men. Hazlitt, 23 Aug. 2023 But some said the higher salaries have meant that centers are cannibalizing the rest of the mental health system by drawing providers away from other programs. Globe Staff,, 27 July 2023 Within the program budget, demand programs shouldn’t cannibalize the budget for reputation, engagement, enablement, and operations program budgets. Forrester, Forbes, 24 Jan. 2023 Tutoring cannibalizes public education, siphoning off students in the upper grades and rewarding teachers for taking their energies to private lessons instead of public classrooms. Vivian Yee, New York Times, 6 Aug. 2023 Their primary goal was to sell just enough units to help the manufacturer reach its new car fleet’s tailpipe emissions target without cannibalizing sales of profitable combustion engine cars. Christiaan Hetzner, Fortune, 2 Aug. 2023 Wall Street Journal has a profile of the company out this week that’s a fascinating look at how Barnes & Noble is learning to compete with Amazon without cannibalizing itself in the process. Alex Cranz, The Verge, 29 July 2023 In addition to a difficult overall race, HBO will be faced with a different type of challenge: not cannibalizing themselves. Emily Longeretta, Variety, 3 May 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'cannibalize.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1873, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of cannibalize was in 1873


Dictionary Entries Near cannibalize

Cite this Entry

“Cannibalize.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


can·​ni·​bal·​ize ˈkan-ə-bə-ˌlīz How to pronounce cannibalize (audio)
cannibalized; cannibalizing
: to take apart a machine for parts to be used as replacements in other machines
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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