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 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 In other words, native ads are a critical support line to the fourth estate. Justin Choi,, "Hey Mark Zuckerberg: A software CEO describes how Facebook can fix its ugly ad problem," 10 Apr. 2018 The Post brings a historical perspective, a reminder of the importance of the fourth estate by demonstrating its objective necessity in our society. Esquire, "And the Best Picture Should Be...," 23 Feb. 2018 And he's never expressed some deeply held reverence for the fourth estate's role in our democracy. Sam Stecklow, Chicago Reader, "How many more journalistic institutions can Michael Ferro imperil?," 21 Dec. 2017 At a press conference, a swarthy member of the fourth estate launches into a fiery Bolshevik speech about the unemployed, but Hammond rejects pleas for presidential action. Thomas Doherty, Slate Magazine, "When Fascist Heroes Took Over the Movies," 30 Mar. 2017

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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Last Updated

15 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for fourth estate

The first known use of fourth estate was in 1837

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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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to clear from alleged fault or guilt

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