Definition of cannibal in US English:



  • 1A person who eats the flesh of other human beings.

    as modifier ‘cannibal tribes’
    • ‘Fourteen years ago they were the last cannibal tribe of Papua New Guinea.’
    • ‘Being transferred into a cannibal society would be extremely unpleasant for most people.’
    • ‘Once upon a time, a story goes, there was a tribe of cannibals in the mountains.’
    • ‘If you are writing a screenplay about a tribe of cannibals who attack a major city, then you are probably going to have to include some scenes of gore, at least if you want to hit your target market!’
    • ‘The cannibal scouts drag the captives to their cannibal chief, who looks them over and pronounces them tasty morsels indeed - and their skins will make excellent canoes!’
    • ‘If he did, he'd have found himself in a cruel parody of Gilligan's Island, a region of thick mangrove swamps and tribes of headhunters and cannibals.’
    • ‘Typee embellished his sojourn with a cannibal tribe in the Marquesas Islands.’
    • ‘Yet one finds little beauty in his description of Shotaro's undead wife or the cannibal priest of ‘The Blue Hood.’’
    • ‘He writes of the information he is given in one village that members of a neighboring tribe were cannibals.’
    • ‘Finally, we discuss potential implications for the dynamics of cannibalistic populations where cannibals and victims compete for a shared basic resource.’
    • ‘The ship anchored in the French Polynesia, and his encounters with a cannibal tribe there became the subject of his first novel, Typee.’
    • ‘Thus the sisters become the helpers of the visitor, hiding her from their cannibal mother.’
    • ‘This peculiar state of affairs led to the suggestion of a cannibal mythology as a feature of Western cosmology.’
    • ‘Indeed, when compared to the Italian cannibal films of the '70s and '80s, Rob's little road movie is an artsy-fartsy wannabe.’
    • ‘And in the black comedy, How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman, an explorer tries to ingratiate himself with a tribe of cannibals in the Brazilian jungle in a vain attempt to avoid becoming their next meal.’
    • ‘During these years she made many enemies, among the whites and some Aborigines, with her cannibal stories, but also many friends who realised that she was the only person competent enough to deal with the Aborigines.’
    • ‘The brain pathology was vividly reminiscent of Kuru, a disease once found in a New Guinea tribe of cannibals who ate the brains of their dead.’
    • ‘During the perilous expedition through jungle and across high altitudes, the group encounters tribes of headhunters and cannibals, observing and filming their rituals and ceremonies.’
    • ‘Charles Gordon Frazer painted Cannibal Feast to provide an insight into the cannibal civilisations he feared were on the brink of extinction after witnessing the feast while hiding in long grass.’
    • ‘Ulysses took his revenge while Polyphemus was asleep, driving a sharpened and heated log into the single eye of their cannibal captor.’
    man-eater, people-eater
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 An animal that feeds on flesh of its own species.
      • ‘Habitat heterogeneity, in combination with density-dependent habitat use in cannibals, is suggested to limit the extent to which cannibalism has a stabilizing effect on population dynamics.’
      • ‘Analysis of bones scored by tooth marks suggests Majungatholus was a cannibal that regularly dined on members of its own species and other dinosaurs.’
      • ‘That raises the question - are ferrox a separate species or just big browns that have turned cannibal when they have achieved a certain size?’
      • ‘Apparently she saw a hen dispatch and consume a mouse and B.'s decided chickens are despicable cannibals - or at least the ones L. raises.’
      • ‘Praying mantises, unlike other insects, do not eat plant life; they are the outstanding cannibals of the insect world and devour even members of their own family.’
      • ‘The amphipod Gammarus tigrinus exhibits a range of feeding behaviors, including that of macrophagous grazer and shredder, and predator / cannibal.’
      • ‘Whereas the humble brownie survives on a meagre diet of crustaceans and fly life, the ferox is a committed cannibal, feeding largely on young fish of its own species.’
      • ‘What led to BSE was the feeding of other animals to a species that is herbivorous, turning them into cannibals.’
      • ‘Smaller non-cannibalistic salamanders respond to conspecific cannibals as a threat, and presumably forage less to decrease the likelihood of being detected and eaten by the larger cannibal forms.’
      • ‘Forget all this silliness about birds, mosquitoes and cannibal cows, Kuru is the wave of the future my friends and I intend to be surfing this one all the way to the bank!’
      • ‘The key conclusion of the report does, however, point the finger at the practice of turning cows into cannibals.’
      • ‘They're great predators and they're also cannibals.’
      • ‘The circuitous route and apparent speed of the chase also hint that early reptiles were active predators and possibly cannibals.’
      • ‘Bluefish are, moreover, said to be cannibals, which may help to explain why the fish in a shoal are all of the same size; if some were larger they would eat the smaller ones.’
      • ‘Paleontologists contend the ancient gnaw marks are among the strongest evidence yet that some dinosaurs indeed were cannibals.’
      • ‘Will all the animal food manufacturers please stop using dead animals to feed others of the same species making our pets cannibals?’
      • ‘If we believe there's cruelty in farming, that animals are often badly reared, turned into cannibals, transported in appalling conditions to abattoirs where they endure unspeakable suffering - then we should do something about it.’
      • ‘I wasn't sure that cannibals was the right word for birds.’
      • ‘It has very powerful claws and is an active predator, scavenger and cannibal.’
      man-eater, people-eater
      View synonyms


Mid 16th century: from Spanish Canibales (plural), variant (recorded by Columbus) of Caribes, the name of a West Indian people reputed to eat humans (see Carib).