Definition of cannibalize
- the energy system has begun cannibalizing the economic system it is supposed to fuel
- —Barry Commoner
- a biography that cannibalizes previous biographies
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He cannibalized one washing machine to fix another.
Many parts of the engine were cannibalized from older cars.
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.
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.
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