fourth estate

noun, often capitalized F&E

Definition of fourth estate

: the public press

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Did You Know?

It might be news to you that the term fourth estate has been around for centuries. In Europe, going back to medieval times, the people who participated in the political life of a country were generally divided into three classes or estates. In England they were the three groups with representation in Parliament, namely, the nobility, the clergy, and the common people. Some other group, like the mob or the public press, that had an unofficial but often great influence on public affairs, was called the fourth estate. In the 19th century, fourth estate came to refer exclusively to the press, and now it's applied to all branches of the news media.

Examples of fourth estate in a Sentence

a member of the Fourth Estate
Recent Examples on the Web To the Biden cheerleaders known as the fourth estate, the Democratic nominee boasts a legal team that would put Clarence Darrow, Thurgood Marshall and Cicero to shame. Kimberley A. Strassel, WSJ, "First, Hail All the Lawyers," 29 Oct. 2020 As election day nears, he's redoubled his efforts bashing the fourth estate, research by Sugars has shown. Eliza Mackintosh, CNN, "No matter who wins the US election, the world's 'fake news' problem is here to stay," 25 Oct. 2020 Of course, the British monarch's message didn't directly address any of these issues, and could be seen as entirely independent from them—a simple message of support for the fourth estate in the middle of a global crisis. Chloe Foussianes, Town & Country, "Queen Elizabeth Thanks the Media for Providing "Reliable Sources of Information" Amid the Pandemic," 6 Oct. 2020 It’s about the difference between state media and the fourth estate. Washington Post, "Charting Fox News’s slide from serious news outlet to ‘state media’," 25 Aug. 2020 That’s par for the course with Harbaugh, who never reveals much about the Wolverines and has long had little patience with the fourth estate. Rainer Sabin, Detroit Free Press, "Michigan football questions are plenty; Jim Harbaugh has to answer them," 8 July 2020 April 4, National Hug a Newsperson Day, was a nice thought, even as the media industry was roiled by mass layoffs, budget cuts, and an exodus of advertiser money, leaving the fourth estate on even shakier ground than usual. Kim Kelly, The New Republic, "The Grim New Relevance of Workers Memorial Day," 28 Apr. 2020 America needs the fourth estate at its very best right now. Ken Langone, National Review, "It’s Time for the Press to Play by the Rules Too," 22 Apr. 2020 While conservatives might celebrate the public’s rejection of the media, the fact that Americans are unable to trust the fourth estate as a reliable source of information during a time of crisis is a problem. Nr Editors, National Review, "The Week," 2 Apr. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'fourth estate.' 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 fourth estate

1837, in the meaning defined above

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The first known use of fourth estate was in 1837

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Cite this Entry

“Fourth estate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Mar. 2021.

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More Definitions for fourth estate

fourth estate


English Language Learners Definition of fourth estate

: the people and organizations who report the news : journalists as a group

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