The term vigilante is Spanish and Portuguese for "watchman" or "watcher," ultimately from Latin "vigilans"- the present participle of "vigilare" (to watch). Its etymology is closely related to (though its meaning very different from) that of the term vigilance. Note that the term vigilantism is a derivative of vigilante, not of vigilant or vigilance. The term vigilante was introduced into English from the northeast United States. Vigilantism is generally frowned upon by official agencies (who would otherwise encourage vigilance on the part of citizens), especially when it gives way to criminal behavior on the part of the vigilante.
vigilant vdl()nt a. & n. L15. [L vigilant- pres. ppl stem of vigilare keep awake, f. vigil: see VIGIL, -ANT1.] A adj. 1 Watchful against danger, difficulty, etc.; keeping steadily on the alert; closely monitoring a situation. L15. b Her. Of an animal: positioned as if watching for prey. rare. E19. 2 Characterized by vigilance; assiduous. M16. 3 Wakeful; sleepless. rare. E-M17.
1 S. NAIPAUL He had been a vigilant and faithful watchdog of the state's interest. 2 H. H. WILSON It was impossibleto exercise a vigilant personal supervision over the officers.
B n. rare. 1 A guardian, a keeper. E19. 2 A wakeful or watchful person. E19.vigilantly adv. M16. vigilantness n. (rare) vigilance L16-E18.
Excerpted from The Oxford Interactive EncyclopediaDeveloped by The Learning Company, Inc. Copyright (c) 1997 TLC Properties Inc.