Definition of fifth column in English:

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fifth column

Pronunciation: /ˈˌfi(f)TH ˈkäləm/


A group within a country at war who are sympathetic to or working for its enemies.
Example sentences
  • While thus ‘raising public awareness,’ Congress was being lobbied for legislation to confront the threat from this enemy within: the fifth column in the ivory tower.
  • Democratic governments played on the fear of a fifth column within in order to bolster the national purpose.
  • The creation of a potential fifth column within the organization makes the duties of members of the audit committee far more onerous than before, with no relief in sight.


fifth columnist

Pronunciation: /ˌfi(f)TH ˈkäləmnəst/
Example sentences
  • Insurrectionists, traitors and fifth columnists were a feature of our political landscape.
  • One of the main themes is the threat posed by fifth columnists, and Fred, despite his admirable single-mindedness, is dangerously naïve in his dealings with strangers.
  • Does Ms. West not think such fifth columnists exist?


The term dates from the Spanish Civil War, when General Mola, leading four columns of troops toward Madrid, declared that he had a fifth column inside the city.

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: fifth col·umn

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