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

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Other Words from pillage

Verb

pillager noun

Synonyms for pillage

Synonyms: Noun

Synonyms: Verb

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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 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 The Metropolitan Museum has once again brought us back to the Middle East—to a cradle of civilization that, by a cruel turn of history, has become a scene of hatred, destruction, and cold-blooded pillage. Peter Brown, The New York Review of Books, "Cities That Touched Heaven," 6 June 2019 Watch as Violette and Jenna pillage through each drawer, discovering some French skincare—and haircare!—secrets along the way. Jenna Rosenstein, Harper's BAZAAR, "Go Inside Makeup Artist Violette's Beauty Stash," 18 July 2018 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb 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 Malaysia is still struggling with the fallout of billions of dollars that were pillaged from a national investment fund, 1MDB, or 1Malaysia Development Berhad. Hannah Beech, New York Times, "Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Resigns," 24 Feb. 2020 Malaysia is still struggling with the fallout of billions of dollars that were pillaged from a national investment fund, 1MDB, or 1Malaysia Development Berhad. Hannah Beech, BostonGlobe.com, "Malaysia’s prime minister resigns," 24 Feb. 2020 Employees shouldn't be left in the dark as companies are pillaged for their resources after equity firms load them down with debt and the top officials walk away with bonuses. Kate Gibson, CBS News, "New Jersey could be first state to require company severance in mass layoffs," 13 Jan. 2020 For years, North Korea's Lazarus Group hackers have plundered and pillaged the global internet, scamming and infecting digital devices around the world for espionage, profit, and sabotage. Lily Hay Newman, Wired, "North Korea Is Recycling Mac Malware. That's Not the Worst Part," 25 Feb. 2020 In the fall of 2018, voters elected President Jair Bolsonaro, a populist ex-military politician determined to pillage the Amazon. Elizabeth Barber, The New Yorker, "A Nun’s Journey in the Amazon," 17 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.

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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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Time Traveler for pillage

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for pillage

Last Updated

24 Apr 2020

Cite this Entry

“Pillage.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pillage. Accessed 1 Jun. 2020.

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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 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

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More from Merriam-Webster on pillage

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for pillage

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with pillage

Spanish Central: Translation of pillage

Nglish: Translation of pillage for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of pillage for Arabic Speakers

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