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

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Other Words from cannibalize

cannibalization \ ˌka-​nə-​bə-​lə-​ˈzā-​shən How to pronounce cannibalization (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 Unlike some companies, the Philadelphia cable colossus is not willing to cannibalize its legacy business for the sake of streaming. Los Angeles Times, "Who will win the streaming wars?," 10 Oct. 2019 Jessica Hembree: Honoring my obligations to our school without cannibalizing or compromising my obligations to my own family is one of the hardest balances to walk. New York Times, "Would a 37-Year-Old Woman Be Where Pete Buttigieg Is?," 18 Jan. 2020 NBCUniversal is in an interesting position as a traditional media company trying to prepare for a streaming future without cannibalizing its existing business. Adam Epstein, Quartz, "Peacock is trying to recreate the experience of watching NBC in the 1990s," 17 Jan. 2020 What everyone’s talking about A father of four who worked as a chemist is accused of cannibalizing his Grindr date. Ashley Shaffer, USA TODAY, "The queen rules on 'Megxit'," 13 Jan. 2020 This tiered approach lets buyers choose their best price without cannibalizing sales. Glenn Peoples, Billboard, "The Growing Cost of Music's $9.99 Monthly Price Tag," 20 Sep. 2019 Working fast for composers meant anything goes, and cannibalizing their own work and that of others was common., "Review: The Kanye West opera at the Hollywood Bowl? Call it ‘Nebuchadsnoozer’," 25 Nov. 2019 This is a species that will cannibalize its young and full-grown adults if food is scarce enough. Daisy Hernandez, Popular Mechanics, "Here's Why Komodo Dragons are the Toughest Lizards on Earth," 29 Sep. 2019 At a congressional hearing a few years back, Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican, spoke of the Marine Corps having to cannibalize F/A-18 parts from a model on display at a museum in order to get current aircraft ready to fly. Justin Rohrlich, Quartz, "The US Navy doesn’t have enough spare parts to keep its fighter jets in the air," 23 Nov. 2019

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.

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First Known Use of cannibalize

1873, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1

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Time Traveler for cannibalize

Time Traveler

The first known use of cannibalize was in 1873

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Last Updated

12 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Cannibalize.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for cannibalize


How to pronounce cannibalize (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of cannibalize

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

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