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 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 In the annals of colonial exploitation, few episodes were as brazen as the pillage of Benin. Wsj Books Staff, WSJ, 4 June 2021 The rebels are depicted as a rag-tag band of bandits, emerging from the bush on motorcycles to shoot the local population and pillage police stations. Sebastian Shukla, CNN, 28 May 2021 The tentacles of the Western quest for domination are still finding new ways to dig into the earth and pillage for profit. Alicia Lutes, USA TODAY, 8 Mar. 2021 Wilson champions the image of a pirate ship, but another founder opposes the metaphor: pirates pillage. Paige Williams, The New Yorker, 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, 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, 18 Apr. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb 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 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, 26 Aug. 2020 The posts vow to pillage through suburbs threatening to rape and murder residents. Mica Soellner, Washington Examiner, 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, 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, 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, 20 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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Dictionary Entries Near pillage

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pillage

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Last Updated

30 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Pillage.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pillage. Accessed 23 Oct. 2021.

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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

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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