1. 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. 2018

Examples from the Web for vigilantism

Contemporary Examples of vigilantism

British Dictionary definitions for vigilantism


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


  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

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



"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