lynch

[ linch ]
/ lɪntʃ /

verb (used with object)

to put to death, especially by hanging, by mob action and without legal authority: In the 19th and 20th centuries, thousands of southern African Americans were lynched by white mobs.
to criticize, condemn, etc., in public: He’s been unfairly lynched in the media.

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Origin of lynch

An Americanism first recorded in 1825–35; verb use of lynch in lynch law

synonym study for lynch

See hang.

OTHER WORDS FROM lynch

lynch·er, nounan·ti·lynch·ing, adjective

WORDS THAT MAY BE CONFUSED WITH lynch

hang, lynch (see synonym study at hang).

Definition for lynch (2 of 2)

Lynch
[ linch ]
/ lɪntʃ /

noun

John "Jack", 1917–1999, Irish political leader: prime minister 1966–73, 1977–79.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

ABOUT THIS WORD

What does lynching mean?

Lynching is the mob killing of a person suspected of a crime, especially by hanging, that is done outside of the law. Lynching is most commonly associated with the hanging death of Black men by white people in the United States, especially in the Jim Crow South.

Content warning: this article includes content dealing with racism and violence inflicted upon Black people and other minority groups.

What is lynching?

The origins of lynching are disputed. Some claim it was named for Captain William Lynch, the head of an informal tribunal in Virginia in 1780 that punished suspected British Loyalists during the American Revolutionary War. This process was described as “Lynch’s law.”

Others claim that the name comes from a different Virginian active around the same time, one Charles Lynch, who is also associated with a “lynch law” similarly connected to the suppression and incarceration of Loyalists. The city of Lynchburg, Virginia, is likely named for his brother, John Lynch.

Whatever its exact origin, Lynch law is recorded by the 1810s and the verb lynch and noun lynching, by the 1830s.

By the turn of the 19th century, lynching came to refer to the murder of Black people blamed for some crime by white mobs without any official legal authority. One of the first lynchings recorded as such occurred in 1835 in St. Louis, when a Black man accused of killing a deputy sheriff was chained to a tree and burned to death publicly in front of a crowd. By the end of the 19th century, the term was widely used to describe mob rule and public execution by hanging, particularly in the US South.

Various ethnic groups were victims of lynching, including Mexicans, Chinese, and European-Americans. But from the late 19th century on, Black Americans were the primary target of lynching as white Americans sought to maintain racial control following the end of the Civil War.

According to the Tuskegee Institute, 3,446 blacks were lynched between 1882 and 1968. During this period, lynching became closely associated with the hanging execution of Black people, whose bodies were typically left to hang in public spaces as a warning to others. Often, lynchings were social occasions for white people.

While lynching became less common into the 20th century, it still continued. The lynching of Michael Donald by two Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members in Mobile, Alabama, in 1981 is generally considered one of the last traditional lynchings in the United States. However, the idea of lynching looms over the United States. In the 21st century, murders of Black Americans by white people, regardless of motive, are sometimes referred to as lynching.

In April 2018, a National Memorial for Peace and Justice was opened in Montgomery, Alabama, to commemorate Black lynching victims.

In February 2020, for the first time in history, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation making lynching a federal hate crime. The bill, known as Emmett Till Antilynching Act, was named for Emmet Till, a 14-year-old Black teenager from Chicago who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955.

More context about the word lynching

In contemporary discussions, lynching retains its historic sense—the execution of a Black person or other member of a minority group for a perceived crime by white people taking the law into their own hands. For example, in May 2017, Mississippi state representative Karl Oliver posted that those who supported the removal of Confederate monuments in Louisiana should be lynched. He later apologized.

Some civil rights activists use lynching to refer more generally to the murder of Black people by white people based solely on the color of their skin. Using the word lynching in this way attracts attention to the problem of hate crimes. As an example, the murder of Black University of Maryland student Richard Collins III by a white man in May 2017 was referred to as a lynching by some commentators.

Lynching can also refer to any kind of vigilante justice or extrajudicial murder, typically of a member of a minority group. For instance, the Indian Supreme Court ruled in July 2018 that “mob lynching is a crime no matter what the motive is” in response to “cow vigilantism”—the murder of those who eat cows, which are sacred in the Hindu religion.

Lynching is also sometimes figuratively used when someone is felt be wrongly persecuted, as if hounded by a metaphorical lynch mob. Due to the history of lynching, using lynching in this way is widely considered offensive and insensitive.

More examples of lynching:

“On Saturday, an African-American student, Richard Collins III, was stabbed and killed on the campus of the University of Maryland in what was widely—and rightly—called a lynching.”
—Steven W. Thrasher, The Guardian, May 2017

“Most black Jasper residents know the reality of the murder. They also know about the long history of Klan activity in East Texas. They know about the dozens of lynchings of black people—including those for which no one has ever been prosecuted.”
—John Savage, Pacific Standard, June, 2018

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

Example sentences from the Web for lynch

British Dictionary definitions for lynch (1 of 2)

lynch
/ (lɪntʃ) /

verb

(tr) (of a mob) to punish (a person) for some supposed offence by hanging without a trial

Derived forms of lynch

lyncher, nounlynching, noun

Word Origin for lynch

probably after Charles Lynch (1736–96), Virginia justice of the peace, who presided over extralegal trials of Tories during the American War of Independence

British Dictionary definitions for lynch (2 of 2)

Lynch
/ (lɪntʃ) /

noun

David. born 1946, US film director; his work includes the films Eraserhead (1977), Blue Velvet (1986), Wild at Heart (1990), Mulholland Drive (2001), and Inland Empire (2006), and the television series Twin Peaks (1990)
John, known as Jack Lynch. 1917–99, Irish statesman; prime minister of the Republic of Ireland (1966–73; 1977–79)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012