fifth column


Definition of fifth column

: a group of secret sympathizers or supporters of an enemy that engage in espionage or sabotage within defense lines or national borders

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Other Words from fifth column

fifth columnism \ -​ˈkä-​ləm-​ˌ(n)i-​zəm How to pronounce fifth column (audio) \ noun
fifth columnist noun

Did You Know?

Fifth column, a translation of the Spanish quinta columna, was inspired by a boast by rebel general Emilio Mola during the Spanish Civil War. Mola predicted Madrid would fall as four columns of rebel troops approaching the city were joined by another hidden column of sympathizers within it. In an October 1936 article in The New York Times, William Carney described those secret rebel supporters as the "fifth column," and English speakers seized upon the term. It gained widespread popularity after Ernest Hemingway used it in the title of a 1938 book, and it was often applied (along with derivative forms such as "fifth columnism" and "fifth columnist") to Nazi supporters within foreign nations during World War II.

Examples of fifth column in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Beau’s very moniker nods to his ideology: A fifth column is a double-agent who seeks to sabotage a group or country from within. Anita Chabria, Los Angeles Times, "Effort to stem online extremism accidentally pushed people toward an anarchist," 30 Mar. 2021 Other members of Likud, which in past campaigns had depicted Arab citizens as a potential fifth column, reacted angrily to Mr. Hanegbi’s comments. Josef Federman And Joseph Krauss, The Christian Science Monitor, "Israeli election: Arab Islamist party could become kingmaker," 24 Mar. 2021 Arab leaders say that could help establish faith between Arab citizens and the state after years of distrust, whose origins date to the founding of Israel and the view of the Arab minority as a fifth column. Dina Kraft, The Christian Science Monitor, "For Israeli Arab voters, surging violent crime overshadows all else," 12 Mar. 2021 Entrepreneurs, hailed and welcomed just a few years earlier, were now painted as a potential fifth column. John Pomfret, The Atlantic, "China’s Leader Attacks His Greatest Threat," 25 Jan. 2021 That has led many Israelis to view them as a fifth column and a security threat. Joseph Krauss, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Israel’s Arabs poised to gain new voice after tight election," 18 Sep. 2019 Set in 1936, the second in the series finds Jack Hunter again having to call on his alter-ego for help as Nazis and other fifth columns take up residence in Union City. Laura Demarco, cleveland, "Cleveland author John C. Bruening brings vintage pulp fiction to life — on the page and in a talk this week," 6 Oct. 2019 That has led many Israelis to view them as a fifth column allied with the country’s enemies, fears Netanyahu has repeatedly exploited to whip up his right-wing base in election campaigns. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Electoral gains revive old dilemma for Israeli Arabs," 29 Sep. 2019 For a long time now this Moscow Patriarchate church has been discussed by patriotic intelligentsia as a kind of fifth column. Fred Weir, The Christian Science Monitor, "Tangle of church and state roils Ukraine’s Orthodox parishes," 17 Apr. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'fifth column.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of fifth column

1936, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for fifth column

name applied to rebel sympathizers in Madrid in 1936 when four rebel columns were advancing on the city

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The first known use of fifth column was in 1936

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Last Updated

8 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Fifth column.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 Apr. 2021.

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