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 Robbie stars as Quinn, the crazed criminal who, after splitting with Joker, is a solo vigilante. Jake Coyle, USA TODAY, "'Birds of Prey' has tepid box office debut on Oscars weekend," 9 Feb. 2020 Many more superheroes and vigilantes have been affiliated with the Birds of Prey, some of whom are men like Blue Beetle, Condor, Hawk, and Creote. Gina Vaynshteyn,, "Birds Of Prey," 10 Feb. 2020 Phoenix thought its most notorious arsonist was an environmental vigilante. Arizona Republic, azcentral, "Social Security scammers, Arizona's safest cities, a notorious arsonist. Here's a look at subscriber exclusives," 23 Dec. 2019 Related Tech 'Pokémon Sword' and 'Shield' Are Worth Playing Buy now: Death Stranding Persona 5 In Persona 5, a gang of teenagers becomes vigilantes who break into the dreams of adults to battle their demons and fix the world’s injustices. Matthew Gault, Time, "Here Are the 10 Best PlayStation 4 Games to Play Right Now," 5 Dec. 2019 Arthur embodies the question of what happens when the folk-hero status of Bernhard Goetz and other vigilantes gets taken to an extreme. Kyle Smith, National Review, "Joker: The Most Unsettling of All Comic-Book Movies," 3 Oct. 2019 Moore’s storytelling cut freely across time and space, from PR-happy vigilantes fighting gangsters in the New Deal Era through late-nuclear terror in President Nixon’s fifth presidential term. Darren Franich,, "Watchmen is a high-energy American saga of racial terrorism and masked identity. It ain't boring.," 15 Oct. 2019 But military dictators who ruled South Korea after the war banned any public discussion of the atrocities committed by the South Korean police and right-wing vigilantes. Choe Sang-hun, New York Times, "Excavating a Horror That Some Koreans Wish Would Stay Buried," 5 July 2019 News of Massey’s death comes as a different border vigilante pleaded guilty to a federal weapons charge in New Mexico. Kevin Krause, Dallas News, "North Texas militia vigilante who rounded up migrants at border found dead after months on the run," 10 Jan. 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.

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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

24 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Vigilante.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 May. 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

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