vig·​i·​lan·​te | \ ˌvi-jə-ˈlan-tē How to pronounce vigilante (audio) \

Definition of vigilante

: a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law are viewed as inadequate) broadly : a self-appointed doer of justice

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Other Words from vigilante

vigilantism \ ˌvi-​jə-​ˈlan-​ˌti-​zəm How to pronounce vigilantism (audio) \ noun

The Meaning and Origin of Vigilante

Vigilante entered English in the 19th century, borrowed from the Spanish word of the same spelling which meant “watchman, guard” in that language. The Spanish word can be traced back to the Latin vigilare, meaning “to keep awake.” The earliest use of the word in English was to refer to a member of a vigilance committee, a committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily, as when the processes of law appear inadequate. The word may often be found in an attributive role, as in the phrases “vigilante justice,” or “vigilante group.” In this slightly broadened sense it carries the suggestion of the enforcement of laws without regard to due process or the general rule of law.

Examples of vigilante in a Sentence

the danger of these self-appointed vigilantes is that they sometimes go after innocent people
Recent Examples on the Web McClain points out that even today, black mothers are charged with organizing movements while still mourning children lost to shootings by police and vigilantes. Dasia Moore, Quartz, "Being a protective black mom isn’t a parenting choice—it’s the only choice," 20 Dec. 2019 Three 18-year-old vigilantes, best friends since grade school, staked out a spot in the electronics section and waited, camera rolling. Anna Claire Vollers |, al, "Alabama teens set out to catch a child predator. They trapped a teacher.," 15 Nov. 2019 Cartels, police and vigilantes alike are spooked by the Jalisco cartel onslaught. Mark Stevenson, USA TODAY, "They're not avocados, they're 'green gold,' and hyper-violent drug cartels have sights set on them," 23 Oct. 2019 Cartels, police and vigilantes alike are spooked by the Jalisco cartel onslaught. Washington Post, "In Mexico, ‘green gold’ brings both riches and violence," 23 Oct. 2019 The most pivotal element of the series, though, is the conflict between Angela and her fellow vigilantes, and the Seventh Kavalry. Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic, "Watchmen Is a Blistering Modern Allegory," 21 Oct. 2019 In Guerrero state, to the east of Michoacan, soldiers and state police man checkpoints between rival gangs of vigilantes, many of which are allied with drug gangs. Mark Stevenson, San Diego Union-Tribune, "In many parts of Mexico, government ceded battle to cartels," 19 Oct. 2019 Ruby Rose is magnetic as Gotham City’s new vigilante, who arrives at a time when Bruce Wayne is missing and the place is overrun with criminal gangs. Chuck Barney, Detroit Free Press, "TV highlights for the week of Oct. 6-12," 5 Oct. 2019 Damon Lindelof's follow-up to The Leftovers uses the comic as a jumping off point for an entirely original look at vigilantes, justice and the ethics of masked heroism. Tim Goodman, The Hollywood Reporter, "Critics Pick the Must-See Shows of Fall TV," 23 Sep. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'vigilante.' 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 vigilante

1856, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for vigilante

Spanish, watchman, guard, from vigilante vigilant, from Latin vigilant-, vigilans

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Time Traveler for vigilante

Time Traveler

The first known use of vigilante was in 1856

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Statistics for vigilante

Last Updated

19 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Vigilante.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 26 January 2020.

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More Definitions for vigilante


How to pronounce vigilante (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of vigilante

: a person who is not a police officer but who tries to catch and punish criminals


vig·​i·​lan·​te | \ ˌvi-jə-ˈlan-tē How to pronounce vigilante (audio) \

Kids Definition of vigilante

: a member of a group of volunteers who are not police but who decide on their own to stop crime and punish criminals

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More from Merriam-Webster on vigilante

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for vigilante

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with vigilante

Spanish Central: Translation of vigilante

Nglish: Translation of vigilante for Spanish Speakers

Comments on vigilante

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


to express in a more acceptable way

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