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

Other Words from vigilante

vigilantism \ ˌvi-​jə-​ˈlan-​ˌti-​zəm How to pronounce vigilante (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 Between 2015 and 2018, vigilante groups killed dozens of people -- many of whom were Muslims -- for allegedly consuming or killing cows, an animal considered sacred by Hindus, according to a report from Human Rights Watch. Rhea Mogul And Swati Gupta, CNN, 14 Jan. 2022 India’s Christian community has long faced pressure, particularly under periods of BJP rule when Hindu vigilante groups feel more emboldened. Washington Post, 28 Dec. 2021 Toxin becomes a new ally vigilante that joins with Venom to hunt Xenophage. Paul Tassi, Forbes, 24 Apr. 2022 No less violent or capable than Moon Knight, Mr. Knight has the benefit of avoiding any criminal consequences from Moon Knight’s vigilante activities. Los Angeles Times, 6 Apr. 2022 Often, these speeches are staged by Hindu vigilante organizations ideologically allied with Modi’s government. Debasish Roy Chowdhury, Time, 30 Mar. 2022 Some people have connected it to the fictional character of Zorro, the avenging vigilante fighting to protect the common people. Washington Post, 7 Mar. 2022 Did Batman save Gordon’s life in their first year together which would explain why Gordon keeps risking his career to defend a vigilante? Brian Davids, The Hollywood Reporter, 4 Mar. 2022 And something important to me was the righteousness, like if a cop can do it, why would a vigilante do it? NBC News, 4 Mar. 2022 See More

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.

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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The first known use of vigilante was in 1856

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Last Updated

23 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Vigilante.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for vigilante


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

More from Merriam-Webster on vigilante

Nglish: Translation of vigilante for Spanish Speakers


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