vig·i·lan·te | \ˌvi-jə-ˈlan-tē \

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 \ 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

Past Midnight tells of a former vigilante who was sentenced to life in prison after being captured by the police while stopping the worst domestic terrorism act ever to hit New York City. Borys Kit, The Hollywood Reporter, "Netflix Lands Rick Famuyiwa-Russo Bros. Vigilante Superhero Film," 2 Mar. 2018 Not everyone was so pleased that a bunch of armed vigilantes were patrolling the streets. Eric Markowitz, Newsweek, "The Most Dangerous Gay Man in America Fought Violence With Violence," 25 Jan. 2018 From the publisher: American hero, or unhinged vigilante? Fox News, "Reaper: Ghost Target: A Sniper Novel by Nicholas Irving," 10 May 2018 Heavily armed vigilantes with assault rifles now patrol hamlets like Tenantla 24 hours per day. Washington Post, "Mexico opium poppy growers see price drop, turn to marijuana," 22 June 2018 Heavily armed vigilantes with assault rifles now patrol hamlets like Tenantla 24 hours per day. Mark Stevenson, Fox News, "Mexico opium poppy growers see price drop, turn to marijuana," 22 June 2018 Political protests were crushed, often with the help of vigilantes who included a motorbike-taxi baron. The Economist, "Uganda’s politicised police force is not reducing crime," 5 July 2018 Then there is Trump’s uncritical embrace of President Duterte of the Philippines, who openly threatens journalists with murder (and sends vigilantes to kill thousands of drug-dealer suspects). Trudy Rubin,, "After Maryland shooting, Trump must quit embracing autocrats who squash the press | Trudy Rubin," 29 June 2018 The film sees the return of Del Toro as the mysterious vigilante Alejandro Gillick and Josh Brolin as federal agent Matt Graver. Marc Malkin, The Hollywood Reporter, "Taylor Sheridan Has "Master Plan" For 'Sicario' Trilogy," 27 June 2018

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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Statistics for vigilante

Last Updated

12 Oct 2018

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Time Traveler for vigilante

The first known use of vigilante was in 1856

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More Definitions for vigilante



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 \

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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Comments on vigilante

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