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

Keep scrolling for more

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 Naturally, Trump has also defended Kyle Rittenhouse, the Trump-supporting vigilante who shot three people in Kenosha, Wisconsin, two of them fatally. Ryan Cooper, TheWeek, "Trump seemingly boasts about executing an American without trial," 30 Sep. 2020 This time, Queen Latifah is the titular vigilante, a divorced single mother named Robyn McCall, and she is surround by a supporting cast including Chris Noth, Adam Goldberg, and Lorraine Toussaint. Matthew Gilbert,, "This week’s TV: Nacho average football game, Queen Latifah as ‘The Equalizer,’ Snoopy gets a show," 1 Feb. 2021 Still, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner and a long line of Black people had already lost their lives to police and vigilante violence in recent years. NBC News, "Ijeoma Oluo on why it's time for white male mediocrity to lose its power," 22 Dec. 2020 Armed vigilante groups marauded throughout the South, openly threatening voters and even carrying out political assassinations. Christopher Frear, Smithsonian Magazine, "Meet Joseph Rainey, the First Black Congressman," 5 Jan. 2021 In the film—which premiered at Sundance and hits theaters on Christmas Day—Carey Mulligan stars as Cassandra, a coffee-shop employee by day and vigilante by night. Emma Specter, Vogue, "Promising Young Woman Is a Sexual Assault Movie Worthy of Its Subject," 23 Dec. 2020 The steel pillar captured the imaginations of millions around the world before it was toppled late Friday, apparently by a group of vigilante litter enforcers, reducing it to bent metal panels and carting them off, presumably to be recycled. Brian Maffly, The Salt Lake Tribune, "It might be gone, but the monolith highlighted Utah’s role as a world-class venue for land art," 2 Dec. 2020 Starting in April, demonstrations against lockdowns prompted makeshift vigilante groups to move offline and into the real world. Lyndon French • New York Times, Star Tribune, "A few keystrokes summon vigilantes to Kenosha, Wisconsin," 17 Oct. 2020 Oath Keepers is one of numerous vigilante groups that have flocked to cities where police killings and protests have sometimes been followed by property damage and violence. Washington Post, "Behind the armor: Men seek ‘purpose’ in protecting property despite charges of racism," 5 Oct. 2020

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about vigilante

Time Traveler for vigilante

Time Traveler

The first known use of vigilante was in 1856

See more words from the same year

Statistics for vigilante

Last Updated

28 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Vigilante.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Mar. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLA Chicago APA Merriam-Webster

Keep scrolling for more

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 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

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for 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).


Test Your Vocabulary

Who Knew?

How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!


Anagram puzzles meet word search.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!