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

Keep scrolling for more

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

Under the new law, the Gaming Control Board must submit a report after the first year that will include details about whether casino business was cannibalized by new gaming activities. Justine Mcdaniel,, "Pa.'s gambling expansion is high-stakes for towns such as Bensalem, host to Parx Casino," 2 Apr. 2018 Engineers will also cannibalize the airliners' landing gear. Michael Belfiore, Popular Mechanics, "Say Hello to Stratolaunch, the World's Largest Plane," 17 Apr. 2012 The decision is also a notable data point as the sports entertainment behemoth attempts to extend its brand on platforms like Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter without cannibalizing the mothership. Jacob Feldman,, "Without Spoilers, How Will NBA Draft Night Play Out on ESPN, Twitter?," 21 June 2018 In the absence of prey, the mosquito assassin larvae will cannibalize each other. Kaila Contreras, Houston Chronicle, "Harris County breeds carnivorous plants, mosquito assassins to limit mosquito population," 7 July 2018 Christian basilicas cannibalize the column capitals from pagan temples; gardens planted in the 16th century spread among the ruins of imperial palaces. Greg Woolf, WSJ, "‘Rome: A History in Seven Sackings’ Review: The City That Survived," 29 June 2018 Wall Street analysts predict the two new additions will cannibalize some existing casinos’ profits. Washington Post, "At 40, are Atlantic City casinos healing or courting danger?," 11 May 2018 The new plane is designed to cannibalize the existing U-2S Dragon Lady and RQ-4 Global Hawk airplanes, converting them into new planes as they are brought in for maintenance. Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, "The U-2 Replacement Is Cannibalized From Old Spy Planes," 22 Mar. 2016 The deal takes advantage of a lack of available equipment in U.S. oil and gas fields after the energy downturn that forced companies to cannibalize parts. Collin Eaton, Houston Chronicle, "Ares, Castle Harlan among private firms pouring cash into Houston's oil industry," 18 Apr. 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.

See More

First Known Use of cannibalize

1943, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1a

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about cannibalize

Share cannibalize

Listen to Our Podcast about cannibalize

Statistics for cannibalize

Last Updated

10 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for cannibalize

The first known use of cannibalize was in 1943

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for cannibalize



English Language Learners Definition of cannibalize

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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on cannibalize

What made you want to look up cannibalize? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


required by fashion, etiquette, or custom

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Great Scrabble Words—A Quiz

  • scrabble-tiles-that-read-scrabble-quiz
  • Which of the following Q-without-U words means the number five in cards or dice?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!