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

An ambitious management team opened too many stores too quickly, cannibalizing sales from existing stores. Nancy Tengler, USA TODAY, "Here's a lesson for 401(k) investors: Don't just save, save to create wealth," 9 July 2019 Christ’s followers were (understandably) shaken by these words, which seemed to insist upon cannibalizing Jesus’ own Flesh and Blood. John Hirschauer, National Review, "What Is Pope Francis Saying about Communion?," 10 June 2019 But, says Henkes, at some point delivery cannibalizes existing restaurants. Laura Reiley | The Washington Post,, "The golden age of restaurants is ending, new book argues," 18 July 2019 The rout has been fueled by disappointing first-quarter deliveries and concern that the cheaper Model 3 is cannibalizing sales from the higher-margin S and X models, preventing the company from earning profits. Josh Eidelson,, "Tesla prepares to boost production and return to hiring mode," 10 July 2019 Hammering home the idea that Western Union is nimble, Ersek said that the company is willing to cannibalize its own business by introducing new products. Erik Sherman, Fortune, "Western Union and Zelle Executives Dish on Competition and the Future of Mobile Payments," 19 June 2019 In response to: The World Split in Two from the April 18, 2019 issue To the Editors: For book writers today, a common occupational hazard is the cannibalizing book review. Eamon Duffy, The New York Review of Books, "Feasting on Erasmus," 9 May 2019 Yet even before lawmakers approved an estimated 23,000 new gambling positions, ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ had found that video gambling has cannibalized casino revenue. Jason Grotto, ProPublica, "Illinois Is Poised to Become the Gambling Capital of the Midwest," 10 June 2019 But every hamster except for one cannibalized her second litter, and one of the surviving pups ate its siblings as soon as their mother weaned them. Ben Crair, Smithsonian, "Why Are These Hamsters Cannibalizing Their Young?," 21 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

1873, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1

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Statistics for cannibalize

Last Updated

13 Aug 2019

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Time Traveler for cannibalize

The first known use of cannibalize was in 1873

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More Definitions for cannibalize



English Language Learners Definition of cannibalize

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

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a period when something is suspended

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