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vigilante

[vij-uh-lan-tee]
noun
  1. a member of a vigilance committee.
  2. any person who takes the law into his or her own hands, as by avenging a crime.
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adjective
  1. done violently and summarily, without recourse to lawful procedures: vigilante justice.
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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
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for vigilantism

vigilantism

noun
  1. US the methods, conduct, attitudes, etc, associated with vigilantes, esp militancy, bigotry, or suspiciousness
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vigilante

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

vigilante

n.

"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.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper