verb can·ni·bal·ize \ ˈka-nə-bə-ˌlīz \
|Updated on: 13 Aug 2018

Definition of cannibalize

cannibalized; cannibalizing
1 a : 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
1 : to practice cannibalism
2 : to cannibalize one unit for the sake of another of the same kind


play \ˌka-nə-bə-lə-ˈzā-shən\ noun

cannibalize was our Word of the Day on 08/24/2015. Hear the podcast!

Examples of cannibalize in a Sentence

  1. He cannibalized one washing machine to fix another.

  2. Many parts of the engine were cannibalized from older cars.

Recent Examples of cannibalize from the Web

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.

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.

First Known Use of cannibalize


in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1a

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CANNIBALIZE Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of cannibalize for English Language Learners

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

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having an air of easy unconcern

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