can·​ni·​bal·​ize | \ˈka-nə-bə-ˌlīz \
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 \ 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

Stores like Kroger, the nation’s largest chain, are being cannibalized by a host of discount competitors and by the growing dominance of Amazon and online delivery. Recode Staff, Recode, "Recode Daily: Apple’s path to $1 trillion continues unabated," 1 Aug. 2018 Moreover, cannibalizing Obamacare, setting public assistance ever further out of reach, and exploding the deficit with massive tax cuts doesn’t make the ruling political right a friend of free markets. Will Wilkinson, Vox, "“Socialism” vs. “capitalism” is a false dichotomy," 16 Aug. 2018 Finally, for book lovers, an MIT Technology Review story examined President Bill Clinton’s fascination with The Cobra Event, a 1997 novel about a biological weapon that causes victims to cannibalize themselves. Adi Robertson, The Verge, "Remembering Grim Fandango: this week in tech, 20 years ago," 3 Nov. 2018 Given Altria’s small share of the vaping business, some analysts have worried that rising sales of Juul devices could steal market share from Altria and also cannibalize the traditional cigarette business, where Marlboro still dominates the market. Jennifer Maloney, WSJ, "Altria Will Pull Its E-Cigarette Pods From the Market," 25 Oct. 2018 Amazon then uses this data to identify opportunities to introduce its own copycat products (usually under the Amazon Basics brand) that then cannibalize market share from the original seller. Matthew Yglesias, Vox, "Amazon’s looming challenge: Europe’s antitrust laws," 21 Sep. 2018 SuperData reported last week that there is some evidence Fortnite's massive success could be cannibalizing sales and play time from other similar franchises. Kyle Orland, Ars Technica, "Steam sees surprising, significant usage dip in 2018," 1 Aug. 2018 The digital service falls short of the sports fan’s Holy Grail, something like an a la carte version of ESPN with any sport a consumer would want to watch—but such an offering would risk cannibalizing the network’s existing cable business. Shalini Ramachandran, WSJ, "What Is and Isn’t Available on ESPN’s New Streaming Service," 12 Apr. 2018 In the gritty, violent world of A Steady Rain, cops extort hookers in the name of community, pimps skewer cops like shish kebabs, and children are cannibalized and set aflame. Julia M. Klein,, "'A Steady Rain' at Walnut: Dark, brilliant two-cop drama," 23 Feb. 2018

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

1943, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1a

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Last Updated

17 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for cannibalize

The first known use of cannibalize was in 1943

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English Language Learners Definition of cannibalize

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

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More from Merriam-Webster on cannibalize

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with cannibalize

Spanish Central: Translation of cannibalize

Nglish: Translation of cannibalize for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of cannibalize for Arabic Speakers

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