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

After the war ended, those murdered by the Communist invaders and leftist vigilantes were treated like martyrs in South Korea. Choe Sang-hun, New York Times, "Excavating a Horror That Some Koreans Wish Would Stay Buried," 5 July 2019 The title characters are vigilantes out to right the wrongs done by overly entitled people with powers. Ellen Gray,, "Summer TV: 'Big Little Lies,’ ‘Stranger Things,’ a Kevin Bacon drama, and much more," 5 June 2019 An independent mayoral candidate, Omar Gómez Lucatero, was fatally shot in the conflict-ridden town of Aguililla, where drug gangs and vigilantes have been active, in the western state of Michoacan on Wednesday. Washington Post, "World Digest: June 21, 2018," 21 June 2018 Aguililla is an extensive but sparsely populated mountain township where drug gangs and vigilantes have been active. Mark Stevenson, Fox News, "2 mayoral candidates killed in Mexico, 18 dead so far," 21 June 2018 In Oakland, pothole vigilantes are filling up craters under the cover of night. Taylor Kate Brown,, "Bay Briefing: How much will free mental health care for all cost San Francisco?," 11 June 2019 There was no rescue mission, no jut-jawed stoicism, no swooping vigilante. Peter Rubin, WIRED, "Goodbye X-Men—You Flawed, Frustrating Cinematic Revolution," 7 June 2019 Now even a hint of a kiss is forbidden in Egyptian movies, song lyrics are sanitized, and moral vigilantes hound artists through the courts. Declan Walsh, New York Times, "Foreign Belly Dancers? Egyptians Shake Their Heads (and Hips)," 8 July 2018 Citizens, left unprotected, turn to vigilantes or rebels, while the middle class hires guards. Ann Toews, WSJ, "‘A Savage Order’ Review: When a State Fuels Bloodshed," 11 Dec. 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

20 Jul 2019

Look-up Popularity

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 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

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with vigilante

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for vigilante

Spanish Central: Translation of vigilante

Nglish: Translation of vigilante for Spanish Speakers

Comments on vigilante

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an act or instance of editing or removing

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