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

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
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun In retaliation, British forces began a brutal occupation of the city that led to many casualties and widespread destruction and pillage. Jane Recker, Smithsonian Magazine, 21 Mar. 2022 Reckless human enterprise is killing Earth’s wild songmakers at alarming rates, using poisons, bulldozers, forest-clearing fires and industrial-scale pillage of prey species. Amy Brady, Scientific American, 23 Feb. 2022 What about the actual diabolical activity—the violence, the rape, the pillage, the sheer wastage of lives? James Wood, The New Yorker, 24 Jan. 2022 But writing a history of empire, pillage, bloodthirstiness and dogma cannot be done in a vacuum, ignoring the dark side of their appeal. Washington Post, 17 Dec. 2021 The idea of a paradise lost — or, more accurately, stolen and desecrated, the M.O. of centuries of colonial pillage — looms large here, and its fallout is all around. Globe Staff, BostonGlobe.com, 11 Nov. 2021 Murder, rape, pillage, and enslavement were common. Claire Messud, Harper's Magazine, 26 Oct. 2021 The Republican Party, including members who had denounced Trump during the 2016 primaries, followed him zombie-like on his pillage-and-burn mission. Mark Lilla, The New York Review of Books, 5 Nov. 2020 The Genghis Khans who come to rape and pillage are never good for the Bristol Bay fishery. John Schandelmeier, Anchorage Daily News, 31 July 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb These days, mead maniacs are less apt to pillage villages than lead campaigns on behalf of their essential, yet unpaid, workers: the bees who visit flowers and other plants to collect the nectar that becomes honey. Peter Rowe, San Diego Union-Tribune, 25 Mar. 2022 Gaming for adults, players will create their characters together at the first session before joining the crew of Pirates of Palm Beach to plunder and pillage the lands of fantasy. Cindy Kent, sun-sentinel.com, 12 Apr. 2022 Before the skeptics and cancel-culture warriors object a wittle too loudly, though, keep in mind that EPPE early adopters will be able to build a new society and pillage the belongings of the dead. Zach Zimmerman, The New Yorker, 1 Mar. 2022 This should never be an excuse to rape and pillage our environment. Phillip Molnar, San Diego Union-Tribune, 26 Nov. 2021 Or showed up as a band of pirates, here to pillage and plunder. John Canzano, oregonlive, 31 Oct. 2021 Yes, the Beatles wanted to hold your hand, but the Stones wanted to pillage your village, make off with its women, and salt the earth on the way out of town. Chris Nashawaty, EW.com, 24 Aug. 2021 The only disaster scenario for the Pac-12 is that the Big Ten decides to pillage in response to the SEC, and the Pac-12 has the most attractive properties. J. Brady Mccollough, Los Angeles Times, 5 Aug. 2021 Wild hogs pillage cornfields, forests, and cemeteries, leaving behind messes that look like the work of angry asteroids. Stephen Ornes, The Atlantic, 15 May 2021 See More

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.

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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Dictionary Entries Near pillage

pill

pillage

pillar

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Statistics for pillage

Last Updated

3 Apr 2022

Cite this Entry

“Pillage.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pillage. Accessed 28 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for pillage

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

More from Merriam-Webster on pillage

Nglish: Translation of pillage for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of pillage for Arabic Speakers

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