a member of a vigilance committee.
any person who takes the law into his or her own hands, as by avenging a crime.


done violently and summarily, without recourse to lawful procedures: vigilante justice.

Origin of vigilante

1825–35, Americanism; < Spanish: vigilant
Related formsvig·i·lan·te·ism, vig·i·lan·tism [vij-uh-lan-tiz-uh m, vij-uh-luh n-tiz-uh m] /ˌvɪdʒ əˈlæn tɪz əm, ˈvɪdʒ ə lənˌtɪz əm/, noun
Can be confusedvigilant vigilante Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for vigilante

Contemporary Examples of vigilante

Historical Examples of vigilante

  • All those who had joined the vigilante movement were marked men.

  • There's nothing I'm so sick of hearing as this vigilante stuff.

    Laramie Holds the Range

    Frank H. Spearman

  • "But I gave the vigilante his penny this morning," I said, hastening to the door.

    The Fortunate Isles

    Mary Stuart Boyd

  • "It's the vigilante," he said, returning to the veranda where we were sitting.

    The Fortunate Isles

    Mary Stuart Boyd

  • You don't mean to say she loves that Vigilante—that mining fellow?

    Miss Dividends

    Archibald Clavering Gunter

British Dictionary definitions for vigilante



one of an organized group of citizens who take upon themselves the protection of their district, properties, etc
Also called: vigilance man US a member of a vigilance committee

Word Origin for vigilante

C19: from Spanish, from Latin vigilāre to keep watch
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

Word Origin and History for vigilante

"member of a vigilance committee," 1856, American English, from Spanish vigilante, literally "watchman," from Latin vigilantem (see vigilance). Vigilant man in same sense is attested from 1824 in a Missouri context. Vigilance committees kept informal rough order on the frontier or in other places where official authority was imperfect.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper