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 The press, sometimes called the fourth estate, owned the most fitting location in town, 4th and State. Jim Stingl, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Stingl: I can't get used to the headlines saying our dear Journal building has been sold," 29 Nov. 2019 When the fourth estate – as the independent press has been historically known – collapses into dust, who becomes the guardian of public integrity? Phillip Morris,, "The watchdog of the Mahoning Valley is about to die: Phillip Morris," 3 July 2019 Lastly, Saturday night, after yet another tragic day in America, with a murderous shooting in a California synagogue, the president once again vilified the fourth estate. Christian Allaire, Vogue, "The Week in Washington: “We’re Fighting All the Subpoenas!”," 28 Apr. 2019 McCain has also had a famously warm relationship with the fourth estate. Fox News, "Pundits pan Trump dumping summit," 28 May 2018 The media attacks had backfired, creating more sympathy for Trump among party members whose distrust of the fourth estate was deeper than ever. Howard Kurtz, Fox News, "Behind the Hostility: How Trump and the media descended to mutual disgust," 23 July 2018 No one is spared from the poking and prodding of the fourth estate, one of the vital checks of a democracy. Fabiola Santiago, miamiherald, "The Trump-Rubio politics of hypocrisy: Cuba, no deal. North Korea? ‘Has great beaches.’," 12 June 2018 There has of late been a melding of two of his favorite targets, the Mueller investigation and the fourth estate, which Donald Trump apparently views as reinforcing each other. Howard Kurtz, Fox News, "Trump's anti-media tweetstorm: Some hits, some misses, all red meat," 1 June 2018 That’s all of one minute and five seconds, and that’s how deft and smooth Garbus is in defining the two great forces — Trump and the Times, the executive branch of government and the fourth estate — that will do battle in this series. David Zurawik,, "There is no fake news in Showtime's winning 'Fourth Estate'," 25 May 2018

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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Last Updated

13 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Fourth estate.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 28 January 2020.

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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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Comments on fourth estate

What made you want to look up fourth estate? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


showing steady, earnest care and effort

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