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 Watchmen stars Regina King as a masked vigilante and is from showrunner Damon Lindelof (Lost) in a new contemporary story set in the universe of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' iconic graphic novel. James Hibberd,, "HBO's Watchmen to stream for free online starting on Juneteenth," 18 June 2020 White supremacist vigilante violence, like that of the white supremacist violence of the state, seizes the opportunities it is presented. Rebecca Pierce, The New Republic, "The Limits and Dangers of a Fixation on “Nonviolence”," 8 June 2020 Mr Anies seized on the ensuing uproar by allying with the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a vigilante group that had been organising big protests against Ahok. The Economist, "Viral marketing Indonesia’s president has a new rival," 4 June 2020 Plague Doctor picks up where the short left off, with the vigilante killer taking out numerous high-profile and wealthy individuals who have managed to escape justice for their crimes. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "A detective hunts a costumed vigilante in Major Grom: Plague Doctor trailer," 4 June 2020 Some historians say the violence against thousands of black people who were lynched after the Civil War is the precursor to the vigilante attacks and abusive police tactics still used against black people today, usually with impunity. National Geographic, "‘It was a modern-day lynching’: Violent deaths reflect a brutal American legacy," 4 June 2020 Enough with the racist vigilantes shooting joggers, the white dog walkers calling the cops on black bird watchers in Central Park, the white cops thrusting their knees on the necks of black bodies. Shawn Windsor, Detroit Free Press, "Murky edges of Detroit protests are tearing us apart | Opinion," 3 June 2020 Bryan did not act in conjunction with the McMichaels on the day of the shooting, attorney Kevin Gough told CNN, adding that any implication his client was a vigilante is inaccurate. Dakin Andone, CNN, "Jay Z, Alicia Keys and others demand justice for Ahmaud Arbery in open letter," 10 May 2020 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

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

27 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Vigilante.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Jul. 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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