What Does Lone Wolf Mean?

Lone Wolf Meaning

Definition: 1) a person who prefers to be alone as opposed to living or working with others; an independent person; 2) a criminal that is not part of a larger illegal organization or network.

Origin of Lone Wolf

This expression began to rise in popularity around the early-1900s. It relates to the literal meaning of wolf, which is a dog-like type of animal. Wolves are famous for living in packs. Therefore, a lone wolf is one that, for whatever reason, has no pack.

Likewise, regarding the first definition of this idiom, a person who is a lone wolf is a person who prefers solitude to the company of other people. People could demonstrate this trait for many reasons. Perhaps some of them have social anxiety. Others may simply find other people annoying. Others might feel like they can accomplish more on their own.

Nowadays, most uses of this term in the news refer to the second definition. Police and news media usually classify the criminals behind mass shootings and other public, violent attacks as part of a gang, terrorist network, or other criminal group. If the criminal does not appear to be linked with any organizations such as those, the news often labels him or her as a lone wolf.

Examples of Lone Wolf

lone wolf definitionHere is an example of two family members using the expression while at home.

Grandmother: I’m worried about you. You never invite friends over here. You also never go out with anyone to the movies, the mall, or anywhere fun.

Granddaughter: You don’t have to worry about that. I’ve always been sort of a lone wolf. I don’t mind hanging out with one or two close friends at a time, for short periods of time. However, I need to have my alone time to relax and feel comfortable. Usually, I prefer to be on my own so I can read my books and watch my TV shows.

Grandmother: Well, if you are happy living mostly in solitude, I won’t push you to be more social.

what is a lone wolfThe second dialogue shows a father and his daughter a recent mass shooting.

Father: This is awful. Fifty people have died already.

Daughter: Do they know who was shooting everyone yet?

Father: No, not yet. However, the police gave a statement that they believe the murderer is a lone wolf. It does not appear like the shooting is the work of any terrorist group.

More Examples

This excerpt is about possible bioweapon attacks.

  • In the meantime, the barriers for a terrorist group or lone wolf to create a biological threat are wearing down. Today, a bioweapon factory like the Japanese terrorists built “could be constructed in a way that was vastly smaller and less visible,” said Danzig, who served on President Barack Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board, which consulted with the intelligence community on biothreats. –Chicago Tribune

This excerpt is from an editorial about a political advisor who may not want to work with others.

  • Bannon is a lone wolf, full of odd notions that won’t get much traction in places like the CIA, and if that ultimately limits his effectiveness, nobody should complain. –Chicago Sun Times


The term lone wolf can either describe a person who prefers solitude to company or a criminal acting without the support of other criminals.