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

Other Words from fifth column

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

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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 They for long have been viewed as a fifth column because of their solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Tia Goldenberg,, 6 June 2022 This is the fifth column in a Heard on the Street series about the end of zero interest rates. Nathaniel Taplin, WSJ, 23 Mar. 2022 Similarly, at home fellow Americans have been targeted as fifth column, gang member, super predator and Black identity extremist. Doris Bittar, San Diego Union-Tribune, 10 Aug. 2021 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who for years has suggested that Israeli Arabs are a fifth column, now urged reconciliation. Time, 27 May 2021 The letter peddles the old right-wing fantasy of a fifth column of rootless cosmopolitans disarming the country against its enemies, both internal and domestic. Harrison Stetler, The New Republic, 24 May 2021 On the right, there is more bravado: calls to disarm Gaza, and to suppress Israeli Arabs as a fifth column. Bernard Avishai, The New Yorker, 21 May 2021 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, 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, 24 Mar. 2021 See More

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.

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

19 Jun 2022

Cite this Entry

“Fifth column.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Jun. 2022.

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