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

Keep scrolling for more

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 One hundred and thirty years hence, Gornick was still galvanizing her routine by cannibalizing the troubled energy of her fellow city dwellers. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, "It Doesn’t Matter If Anyone Exists or Not," 24 Feb. 2020 Because there is no existing business to cannibalize, there's less pressure from investors to maximize revenue by minimizing rates. Erik Sherman, Fortune, "Investors Give Goldman a Thumbs Up for Going Down Market," 22 July 2019 What Burns is saying is that a glut of moderate candidates is cannibalizing the moderate vote, giving Sanders a clear lane to win primary elections solely with the progressive vote. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, "How Pundits Manipulate Math to Dismiss Sanders," 13 Feb. 2020 But the old Hollywood studio vaults are being cannibalized by just a few corporations, such as Disney, which can shut off the streaming spigot, at will. Catherine Bigelow,, "Gettys gamble big at annual AIDS research fundraiser," 26 Nov. 2019 Some have expressed concern that MSR’s budget could be cannibalized by NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to return U.S. astronauts to the moon sometime this decade. Robin George Andrews, Scientific American, "Rocks, Rockets and Robots: The Plan to Bring Mars Down to Earth," 6 Feb. 2020 Those who tried to run were tortured, killed and sometimes cannibalized by fellow recruits in what U.S. federal agents describe as a disturbing rite of passage. Beth Warren,, "A ruthless Mexican drug lord’s empire is devastating families with its grip on small-town USA," 25 Nov. 2019 There is some risk that cheaper products could cannibalize Peloton’s higher-end offerings, which could hamper its path to profitability. David Z. Morris, Fortune, "Peloton for All? The High-End Fitness Company’s IPO Hints at a Tesla Strategy," 24 Sep. 2019 Unlike some companies, the Philadelphia cable colossus is not willing to cannibalize its legacy business for the sake of streaming. Los Angeles Times, "Who will win the streaming wars?," 10 Oct. 2019

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

1873, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about cannibalize

Time Traveler for cannibalize

Time Traveler

The first known use of cannibalize was in 1873

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about cannibalize

Statistics for cannibalize

Last Updated

25 Mar 2020

Cite this Entry

“Cannibalize.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Apr. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for cannibalize


How to pronounce cannibalize (audio)

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).


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Name that Thing: Flower Edition

Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Syn City

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!