pillage

noun
pil·​lage | \ˈpi-lij \

Definition of pillage 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : the act of looting or plundering especially in war

2 : something taken as booty

pillage

verb
pillaged; pillaging

Definition of pillage (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

: to plunder ruthlessly : loot

intransitive verb

: to take booty

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Other Words from pillage

Verb

pillager noun

Synonyms for pillage

Synonyms: Noun

booty, loot, plunder, spoil, swag

Synonyms: Verb

despoil, loot, maraud, plunder, ransack, sack

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Choose the Right Synonym for pillage

Verb

ravage, devastate, waste, sack, pillage, despoil mean to lay waste by plundering or destroying. ravage implies violent often cumulative depredation and destruction. a hurricane ravaged the coast devastate implies the complete ruin and desolation of a wide area. an earthquake devastated the city waste may imply producing the same result by a slow process rather than sudden and violent action. years of drought had wasted the area sack implies carrying off all valuable possessions from a place. barbarians sacked ancient Rome pillage implies ruthless plundering at will but without the completeness suggested by sack. settlements pillaged by Vikings despoil applies to looting or robbing without suggesting accompanying destruction. the Nazis despoiled the art museums

The Various Uses of Pilfer

Pilfer is a synonym of steal, but it typically implies a particular kind of stealing. What is pilfered is usually stolen stealthily—furtively, so that no one will notice—in small amounts and often again and again. One might, for example, pilfer cookies from a cookie jar until a plentiful supply has dwindled to nothing. The word is sometimes used for that kind of stealing: the stealthy and gradual stealing of something that isn't worth much anyway:

Money was tight enough that Dickey's family used silverware pilfered from the local Western Sizzlin….
— L. Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated 2 Apr. 2012

But it is also used when the stolen things are valuable indeed, and the act of pilfering a serious criminal act:

For generations, scavengers have prowled this city with impunity, pouncing on abandoned properties and light poles to pilfer steel, copper and other metals they could trade for cash at scrapyards. The practice left tens of thousands of buildings so damaged that they could not be restored, turning places like the North End into grim cityscapes that appeared to have been ravaged by a tornado.
— John Eligon, The New York Times, 15 Mar. 2015

Pilfer may remind one of a similar also-serious word: pillage. The two words share more than a first syllable; pilfer comes from an old word meaning "booty" (as in, things that are stolen or taken by force, especially during a war) and pillage means "to take things from a place by force especially during a war." But despite their similarities, the words in modern use are very different. Pilfer has long since shed the connotations of violence in its etymological past; what's pilfered is not taken violently. Pillage, on the other hand, remains firmly rooted in violence and especially war; it is not a term you apply when someone's been sneaking cookies from a cookie jar.

Examples of pillage in a Sentence

Noun

the pirate ship was laden with the pillage of merchant ships from across the Spanish Main

Verb

The enemy pillaged the town. The town was pillaged and burned. barbarians known for looting and pillaging
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

In Maeve's understanding, the Ghost Nation showed up in the name of violence, to attack, pillage and plunder. refinery29.com, "Westworld Season 2, Episode 8: Forget What You Think You Know," 11 June 2018 When the action opens, Jacques Jaujard, deputy head of the Louvre, is packing up the contents of the museum in order to spare France’s art collection from Nazi pillage. Nina Renata Aron, The New Republic, "The Spirit of the Left Bank," 21 Mar. 2018 Señorita Navarro opened the door and was greeted by language of the vilest sort from marauders whose sole intent seemed to be to loot and pillage. Robert Kolarik, San Antonio Express-News, "Alamo falls at dawn," 5 Mar. 2018 In 1956, Graham compared the Soviet Union to a gangster set loose to murder and pillage. David Briggs, cleveland.com, "Billy Graham's 'unwavering message' was heard around the world, and in Cleveland (photos)," 21 Feb. 2018 There is no question about the general philosophy that underlay this great act of public pillage and economic rapine. Charles P. Pierce, Esquire, "And The Banks Get Off Easy," 13 Mar. 2013 The concept of white supremacy is one of the oldest racist philosophies, which originated from their need to explain their need to rape, pillage and conquer the world. Michael Harriot, The Root, "The Complete List of Racists," 18 Aug. 2017 That patchwork, conservationists argue, has left the high seas open to pillage. Somini Sengupta, New York Times, "Nations Will Start Talks to Protect Fish of the High Seas," 2 Aug. 2017

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Their crops had been scorched, their villages had been pillaged. New York Times, "A Story of Survival Revived by the Cicadas’ Loud (and Crunchy) Return," 22 June 2018 In recent days, protesters had pillaged, burned and vandalized shops in the capital city. NBC News, "Strike shuts down Haiti capital after three days of protests," 9 July 2018 Looters pillaged, burned and vandalized shops in Haiti’s capital Sunday after two days of violent protests over the government’s attempt to raise fuel prices. Washington Post, "World Digest: July 8, 2018," 8 July 2018 However, tourism has suffered badly as militant groups and criminal gangs continue to fund a long-running war by pillaging the park's resources. Nada Bashir, CNN, "Foreign tourists involved in potential kidnapping in Virunga National Park," 11 May 2018 And there is something particularly brazen about profiting from the addictions that killed a person, and then pillaging their reputation for more. Josie Duffy Rice, The Atlantic, "The Gospel According to Pusha T," 12 July 2018 Political and economic turmoil left Fatimid caliphs unable to pay their soldiers, who responded by pillaging the royal palaces. Brigit Katz, Smithsonian, "Landmark Exhibition Takes You Inside the Exuberant, Diverse World of the Fatimid Dynasty," 21 Mar. 2018 This is especially true in San Antonio, where there’s a plethora of older housing stock just begging to be pillaged — or restored to its former glory. Richard A. Marini, San Antonio Express-News, "S.A.’s doors, windows, hardware from old homes finding new lives," 4 May 2018 Humans pillaged the elephant birds’ nests, which likely played a role in driving the animals towards extinction. Brigit Katz, Smithsonian, "Giant, Intact Egg of the Extinct Elephant Bird Found in Buffalo Museum," 23 Apr. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'pillage.' 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 pillage

Noun

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Verb

circa 1593, in the meaning defined at transitive sense

History and Etymology for pillage

Noun

Middle English pilage, from Anglo-French, from piler to rob, plunder

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Statistics for pillage

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Time Traveler for pillage

The first known use of pillage was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for pillage

pillage

verb

English Language Learners Definition of pillage

: to take things from (a place, such as a city or town) by force especially during a war : to loot or plunder (a place)

pillage

noun
pil·​lage | \ˈpi-lij \

Kids Definition of pillage

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: the act of robbing by force especially during a war

pillage

verb
pillaged; pillaging

Kids Definition of pillage (Entry 2 of 2)

: to rob by force especially during a war

pillage

verb
pil·​lage | \ˈpi-lij\
pillaged; pillaging

Legal Definition of pillage 

transitive verb

: to loot or plunder especially in war

intransitive verb

: to take booty

Other Words from pillage

pillage noun

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