Children's, Intermediate and Advanced Online English Dictionary & Thesaurus

  • Word of the Day

    shaI st@r

    a person, usu. a lawyer, who uses underhanded, unethical methods.
    That shyster accepted her fee for his services but did almost nothing for her.

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  • Vocabulary of the Day

    neI seI @r

    a person who refuses, denies, or opposes, esp. because of cynicism or pessimism.
    They went ahead with their ambitious plan despite the arguments of the naysayers.

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Posted in Word of the Day by admin

vI j@ laen ti
one who seeks to avenge a crime or injury or punish a criminal without legal authority or due process.
example: As the Cold War was replaced by America’s ongoing wars on crime and drugs, Hollywood embraced the armed vigilante as a heroic  icon. (Patrick McCormick, “How the West Wasn’t,” US Catholic, March 2011)

Word History

Vigilante is an American-English word borrowed from Spanish in the nineteenth century. The Spanish word means, literally, “watch man,” and was used in American English to mean “member of a vigilance committee.”  According to Wikipedia, a vigilance committee was

a group formed of private citizens to administer law and order where they considered governmental structures to be inadequate. The term is commonly associated with the frontier areas of the American West in the mid-19th century, where groups attacked cattle rustlers and gangs, and people at gold mining claims. As such groups operated outside the law, they sometimes took excessive actions and killed innocent people. In the years prior to the Civil War, groups worked to free slaves and transport them to freedom. ( Accessed 4/15/2013.)

Vigilante has the same Latin origins as vigilant (keenly alert; watchful, especially for danger) and vigil (a watch or period of surveillance, especially one that lasts all night.). The Latin adjective vigil means “wakeful, watchful, alert,” and is related to the Latin verb vigere, meaning “to be lively,” from which we get vigor, invigorate, and vigorous.