• vigilante •
vij-ê-læn-tee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A member of a self-appointed militia to punish those they consider wrong-doers without a trial and outside the law.
Notes: Vigilante belongs to the lexical family that includes vigil and vigilant. The latter has a noun, vigilance. A vigilante thinks himself a vigilant protector of liberty in view of failure to do so by law enforcement authorities.
In Play: Vigilantes usually form "militias" today, but occasionally individuals assume the role: "In August of 2020 an armed vigilante came to Kenosha, Wisconsin, to break up a "Black Lives Matter" protest. He failed to shoot any protesters but shot three people who were trying to disarm him." However, some are creating figurative uses of today's term, taking advantage of the original meaning of the word: "Spam vigilantes are constantly providing free antispam programs for the computing public."
Word History: Today's Good Word came to English from Spanish vigilante "guard, watchman", inherited from Latin vigilan(t)s "watchful, careful", the present participle of vigilare "to monitor, keep an eye on". Latin got its word from PIE weg-/wog- "to be conscious, active, lively", origin also of English watch and (a)wake. By the time it reached Proto-Germanic it was wikkjaz "necromancer, one who wakes the dead". This word ended up in Modern English as wicca and witch. Vegetable also came from weg-/wog-. Latin created vegetare "to enliven" out of it, so vegetabilis meant "enlivening". By Old French, when Middle English borrowed it, the meaning had changed to "living, fit to live". English took its definition the last mile. (George Kovac, who keeps keen vigilance over the English vocabulary, supplied us with the motivation to publish today's unfortunately topical Good Word.)
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