Is there a word that describes the giving of punishment (usually stoned to death) of a criminal by the local people near where the crime happened?

A typical example would be when a thief in a village steals a motorcycle, and then gets caught by the angry mobs, and then usually the thief gets either killed by the mobs or beaten badly without proper hearing and trial, usually until the police intervene.

I've tried searching for "trial by the mass" (but apparently Google found mass trial instead), "public trial" (but apparently it means something different), "trial without hearing" (but the results are not what I'm looking for), "punishment by the mass" (but Google found capital punishment and collective punishment instead), and so far, nothing gives me a word for punishment by the public/mass.

  • 4
    In the US it would be "lynching".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 3:27
  • 5
    Related : Kangaroo court en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kangaroo_court ; Show trial en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Show_trial . While "lynching" is by people without a trial , "Kangaroo court" & "Show trial" are with no Proper trial.
    – Prem
    Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 3:43
  • 2
    Another relevant term is summary execution, which Wikipedia defines as "a variety of execution in which a person is accused of a crime and then immediately killed without benefit of a full and fair trial. This includes show trials, but is usually understood to mean capture, accusation, and execution all conducted during a very short span of time relative to the severity of the punishment."
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 3:55
  • 1
    A place where (my preferred answer) vigilate justice takes place could be described as having mob rule by the way.
    – Martijn
    Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 11:34
  • 1
    In America we call that either a drone strike or a Michael Brown :)
    – Neil
    Commented Apr 18, 2015 at 0:35

10 Answers 10


From Merriam-Webster Online:


transitive verb : to put to death (as by hanging) by mob action without legal sanction

From Online Etymology:

lynch (v.)

1835, from earlier Lynch law (1811), likely named after William Lynch (1742-1820) of Pittsylvania, Virginia, who c.1780 led a vigilance committee to keep order there during the Revolution. Other sources trace the name to Charles Lynch (1736-1796) a Virginia magistrate who fined and imprisoned Tories in his district c.1782, but the connection to him is less likely. Originally any sort of summary justice, especially by flogging; narrowing of focus to "extralegal execution by hanging" is 20c. Lynch mob is attested from 1838. The surname is perhaps from Irish Loingseach "sailor." Compare earlier Lydford law, from a place in Dartmoor, England, "where was held a Stannaries Court of summary jurisdiction" [Weekley], hence:

Lydford law: is to hang men first, and indite them afterwards. [Thomas Blount, "Glossographia," 1656]

(Which I find interesting—I'd always assumed lynch was related to the actual noose somehow.)

Google Ngram purports to find a reference to "lynch law" going back to 1790, but that is suspicious. The terms really start to heat up about 1830.

And an article I was just reading in Scientific American reminded me that murder is also a perfectly appropriate term for the taking of life extralegally.

  • Hmm, this is just the etymology, isn't it? Can you give a link that give the definition also?
    – justhalf
    Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 6:11
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    @justhalf at the Online Etymology link, if you click on the symbol of the little blue book, it will send you to the dictionary entry for the word. Also, note that "viligante justice" is quite apropo, as is "take the law into their/its own hands". The mob took the law into its own hands and practiced vigilante justice by lynching those who they thought guilty.
    – pazzo
    Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 6:27
  • @pazzo: I see, but wouldn't it be better if you can include the definition here also?
    – justhalf
    Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 6:34
  • You can certainly request that the definition be included in the answer. I was just pointing out how you could access the definition in the meantime. Additionally, in general I would think it rare that 90% (or 100% plus an aside) of a good answer would be a direct quote from an outside source.
    – pazzo
    Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 6:38
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    My friends from Galway told me that Lynching was derived from Galway judge Lynch (1470?): legendquest.ie/mayor_lynch.html. Lynch's case was quite the opposite of the current meaning of lynching: a mob prevented him from hanging his own son, but he then hanged him from his own bedroom window.
    – GeertPt
    Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 9:59

A typical example would be when a thief in a village stole a motorcycle, and then get caught by the angry mobs, and then usually the thief got either killed by the mobs or beaten so badly without proper hearing and trial...

I think you might be looking for the term vigilante justice:

someone who takes the law into his/her own hands by trying and/or punishing another person without any legal authority. In the 1800s groups of vigilantes dispensed "frontier justice" [also called vigilante justice or street justice] by holding trials of accused horse-thieves, rustlers and shooters, and then promptly hanging the accused if "convicted."

Vigilante justice has been glamorized since before "Robin Hood", the earliest edition having been printed

between 1492 and 1534, but shows every sign of having been put together from several already existing tales. (Wikipedia)

  • So the whole act is termed as vigilante justice, am I right? Nice answer. But I think lynching is more compact :)
    – justhalf
    Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 6:35
  • 4
    @justhalf - lynching is more compact. It does connote, though, death (not just punishment) and particularly by hanging. It also (imo) has a particularly bad association with hatred as opposed to retribution. Interesting... Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 6:57
  • @justhalf To me lynching has a different meaning. As in "The crowd carried out an act of vigilante justice by lynching the perpetrator".
    – Taemyr
    Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 13:15
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    Vigilante does not implicitly imply more than one person.
    – Mazura
    Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 13:19

Not a single word but a useful idiom: Take the law into your own hands :

  • to do something illegal in order to punish someone.

    • Her mother took the law into her own hands when she heard that her child had been abused. She decided to take the law into her own hands and rescue the dog from its owner, who beat it.
  • Usage notes: usually said about someone who does something because they believe that the authorities will not take action

( Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms)

  • +1. Looks like a matching idiom, but since I'm looking for a word, I need to give the check mark to the "lynching" answer. :)
    – justhalf
    Commented Apr 18, 2015 at 7:12

extrajudicial is the legal term for this sort of behaviour


  • (of a sentence) not legally authorised.
  • (of a settlement, statement, or confession) not made in a court of law.
  • But carries the connotation that it is performed by officials like police as in en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extrajudicial_killing
    – Martijn
    Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 11:27
  • That is the correct answer. justhalf has not specified who the perpetrator is, if it isn't officials, then yes, it is vigilantism. Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 23:50
  • @PerformanceDBA: I did say "local people", which usually doesn't refer to the officials. I agree with Martijn that this answer, while carries somewhat related definition with my description, doesn't give the imageries in the example that I gave.
    – justhalf
    Commented Apr 18, 2015 at 7:14
  • @justhalf. I stand corrected. Don't get mixed up with imageries vs words, which have specific meaning. It is extrajudicial if a proper trial is not executed, regardless of whether the perps are officials or not. Full stop. I disagree with Martijn's connotation. Therefore this is the correct answer for the question. Now for the imageries and locales. Lynch is understood in America, outside it it is understood as an American history. Vigilantism is understood universally. Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 6:08
  • I consider this answer the same as [this answer]( english.stackexchange.com/a/240130/58844), which is too general.
    – justhalf
    Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 6:31

The word for punishment meted out outside the formal and legal justice system is extrajudicial.

It's often used to describe a state actor which chooses to perform an act outside the legal system in punishing its opponents.

"The prince of Florin took matters into his own hands to perform the extrajudicial killing of his rival in love."


When I hear "vigilante justice" I tend to think of an individual. I have heard the phrase "mob justice" used as a multi-person equivalent. As noted above "lynching" implies a specific form of punishment.


Short Shrift - a term with an originally unpleasant feeling that had become "just part of the language" a few decades ago and is now almost lost to common usage.

"Giving someone short shrift" in recent times means dealing with their concerns peremptorily, not giving them a chance to state their case (which verges on your requirement) or ignoring them.

Originally it meant to execute them with little or no attention to due process of law, religious or state - a very good fit to your requirement. Predictably enough, Shakespeare appears to have coined the term.

    Dispatch, my lord; the duke would be at dinner:
    Make a short shrift; he longs to see your head.
    Shakespeare, in Richard III, 1594.

Merriam Webster

  • barely adequate time for confession before execution

  • little or no attention or consideration

"Kangaroo Court" - An Australian or American West term depending on which authorities you believe. At face value may seem to refer only to the 'judicial process', in practice refers more to the dispensing of 'rough justice' without fair assessment of the guilt of the recipient.

Nowadays most often associated for action taken by prison inmates against other inmates for alleged offences.
Also "prairie-dog court"
Phrases.org - Kangaroo Court - meaning and origins.

  • It's always facsinating to see what phantom down-voters consider to be "not useful", although one sometimes wonders.. Commented May 15, 2015 at 4:51
  • Plus one for Kangaroo Court as related materiel. What's with the * on rough justice, though?
    – Mazura
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 23:33
  • @Mazura - looks like I was intending to add a "Rough Justice" section at the end. I've removed that portion as the response of readers hardly justified the extra effort. Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 14:12

The correct answer would be vigilantism. Lynching comes with the death of the culprit and if not, the reason is usually the existence of a bigger force that prevents the angry people from finishing what they started - like the police who arrives at the scene shortly after the lynching begins. And this situation is called an attempted lynch.

Vigilantism is most common in the places with the lack of the central administration / government forces, or the lack of trust in the justice system.


How about "Retaliatory Justice"

  • Nice oxymoron.. Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 8:49
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    It's not correct, but a similar phrase occurs in writings about crime & punishment: retributive justice - justice that is concerned primarily with punishing the wrong-doer (as opposed to restorative justice which seeks to make things right for the victim, or transformative justice which seeks to address the causes of crime & thus prevent recidivism). The "lex talionis", "an eye for an eye" is a good example of retributive justice where the punishment is entirely retaliatory.
    – Matt Moran
    Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 10:02

In the US, this would also be categorized as a "crime". Participants in a lynching are all culpable for the crimes committed, with the possible addition of a conspiracy charge. In cases where actions short of death are involved, all of the laws concerning crimes against persons or property still apply.

  • 1
    Welcome to Stackexchange! While the action which I am describing can indeed be categorized as crime, but I am looking for the word to describe the action, and so your answer here does not answer my question. Please see help center on how this site work.
    – justhalf
    Commented Apr 18, 2015 at 14:09

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