pillage

noun
pil·​lage | \ ˈpi-lij How to pronounce pillage (audio) \

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

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from pillage

Verb

pillager noun

Synonyms for pillage

Synonyms: Noun

Synonyms: Verb

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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
See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Wilson champions the image of a pirate ship, but another founder opposes the metaphor: pirates pillage. Paige Williams, The New Yorker, "Inside the Lincoln Project’s War Room," 5 Oct. 2020 Puerto Rico is much more involved in helping commercial fisherman pillage these resources than supporting what could be a top-shelf recreational destination. T. Edward Nickens, Field & Stream, "A Puerto Rican Fishing Road Trip for Silver Kings, Bigmouths, Mullet, and More," 27 May 2020 Conquer, pillage, and blow things up, making the same mistakes that doomed them to search for new lands in the first place. David Sims, The Atlantic, "22 Movies About the End of the World to Watch Now," 18 Apr. 2020 Pass rush pillage That 2002 defense was supercharged by a ferocious front four led by one of the greatest Buckeyes ever, the late defensive end Will Smith. cleveland, "Ohio State is no David heading into college football playoffs: Bill Livingston," 27 Dec. 2019 Suddenly, other buggies veer into view, intent on pillage and theft. Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, "“Ad Astra” Will Leave You Awed, Confused, and Sad," 13 Sep. 2019 Considering all the wars and all the rapes and pillages taken place and whatever happened to culture after society? Luke Johnson, Fortune, "‘Rape and Incest’ Comments Highlight House Republicans’ Steve King Problem," 15 Aug. 2019 Considering all the wars and all the rape and pillage that has taken place? Ellen Mcgirt, Fortune, "Author Casey Gerald Ponders the Black Experience in an America Shaped by Hate: raceAhead," 15 Aug. 2019 Drifters from the conflict, skilled in pillage but unable to find gainful employment (of which there is little), have left a deep pool from which groups like CODECO can recruit. The Economist, "Killings in Congo’s north-east spark fears of a return to war," 13 July 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb But many of those dumbbells are already spoken for, so those who didn’t successfully pillage their local gyms may still face delays on orders for new weights. Jenni Avins, Quartz, "Why the US can’t stock dumbbells fast enough," 26 Aug. 2020 The posts vow to pillage through suburbs threatening to rape and murder residents. Mica Soellner, Washington Examiner, "Disinformation posts about violent takeover of white suburbs flood social media in several states," 5 June 2020 Zeitlin noted that a number of his company's stores had been vandalized and pillaged over the weekend in different U.S. cities and mused about what kind of despair would lead people do to do that, but said those concerns were secondary. Phil Wahba, Fortune, "CEO of Coach parent Tapestry forcefully says ‘black lives matter’ in emotional post to staff," 1 June 2020 Toren’s great-uncle, the wealthy Jewish industrialist and art collector David Friedmann, was forced to flee and the Nazis pillaged his extensive collection. NBC News, "Holocaust survivor David Toren reclaimed Nazi-looted artwork before dying of COVID-19," 15 May 2020 George Pataki, for example, who was in office from 1995 to 2006, pillaged the M.T.A.’s budget, doubling the agency’s debt and initiating a slide in maintenance that continued until recently. William Finnegan, The New Yorker, "Andy Byford’s Last Day with New York’s Transit System," 20 Feb. 2020 Former Pemex employees say Trauwitz coordinated a vast effort to pillage oil from pipelines and refineries. Kevin Sieff, Washington Post, "A general was the leading suspect in the biggest anti-corruption case in Mexico. Then he disappeared.," 10 Nov. 2019 To some toy industry experts, the prevalence of llamas signals a possible death knell for the unicorn, the mythical and stubbornly immortal toy that pillaged the industry and beyond circa 2017. Chavie Lieber, New York Times, "Move Over, Unicorns. Llamas Rule the Toy Business Now.," 14 Apr. 2020 Pendley’s entire career has been about liberating the extractive industry from environmental laws, enabling companies to pillage the lands he is now entrusted to protect. Christopher Ketcham, The New Republic, "The Trump Official Who Could Obliterate Public Lands," 3 Feb. 2020

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about pillage

Time Traveler for pillage

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for pillage

Last Updated

11 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Pillage.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pillage. Accessed 30 Nov. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

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 How to pronounce pillage (audio) \

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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on pillage

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

WORD OF THE DAY

Test Your Vocabulary

A Thanksgiving Word Quiz

  • a traditional thanksgiving dinner
  • November comes from a word for which of the following numbers?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

TAKE THE QUIZ
Citation

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

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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