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 Recommended Fairness Two-thirds of Parliament from a third of the votes: Are British elections out of whack? Reform UK finished second in dozens of constituencies, mostly cannibalizing the traditional Conservative vote and thus handing victory to Labour. Ned Temko, The Christian Science Monitor, 11 July 2024 Microsoft now needs to extract more value from those subscribers to justify Game Pass cannibalizing direct sales of its own first-party games. Kyle Orland, Ars Technica, 10 July 2024 Guest Monica Crowley says the White House aides are starting to 'cannibalize' each other. Fox News, 3 July 2024 As streaming services cannibalize their viewership and cinema ticket sales wane, this foursome have a gravitational pull across mobile phones with the teen comedy series Alan’s Universe which is a cross between Charlie Chaplin, Korean soaps and Riverdale. Anthony D'alessandro, Deadline, 13 June 2024 See all Example Sentences for cannibalize 

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 24 Jul. 2024.

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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