Definition of fourth estate in English:

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fourth estate


(the fourth estate)
The press; the profession of journalism: copy desks are held together by the bad-news contingent of the fourth estate
More example sentences
  • The corporate media, the fourth estate, ‘free press’, or whatever one would like to call it owes the public nothing.
  • In many way, this is why I appreciate the fourth estate, the press, or the fifth estate, the web, as it is so important to hear as many voices as possible because sunlight is the best disinfectant.
  • But we have only a minute-and-a-half, so let's hurry through the calendar and isolate some examples of no love lost between the White House and the fourth estate.


Originally used humorously in various contexts; its first usage with reference to the press has been attributed to Edmund Burke, but this remains unconfirmed.

  • press from Middle English:

    Both press and print (Middle English) can be traced back to Latin premere, ‘to press’, as can pressure (Late Middle English). Journalists and the newspaper industry have been known as the press, in reference to printing presses, since the late 18th century, although before that a press was a printing house or publisher. Another name for journalists, used since the 1830s or 1840s, is the fourth estate. It was originally used of the then unrepresented mass of people: Henry Fielding wrote in 1752 ‘None of our political writers…take notice of any more than three estates, namely, Kings, Lords, and Commons…passing by in silence that very large and powerful body which form the fourth estate in this community…The Mob.’ By the middle of the 19th century it was firmly established for the press. Carlyle wrote in 1841 ‘Burke said there were three Estates in Parliament, but in the Reporters’ Gallery…there sat a fourth Estate more important far than they all.’ Burke has been credited with the term, but no evidence beyond Carlyle has yet been found. Press the flesh is US slang from the 1920s meaning ‘to shake hands’. These days it is generally used of celebrities or politicians greeting crowds by shaking hands with random people. The heyday of the press gang, a group employed to force men to join the navy, was the 18th and early 19th centuries, but the first record of the term comes before 1500. Press-ganging people was really a form of arbitrary conscription, a word that appears in Late Middle English in the literal sense of ‘writing down together’ from Latin con ‘with’ and scribere ‘write’, but which was only introduced in the modern sense of compulsory enlistment in Britain in 1916, during the First World War, although the word was first recorded in 1800. Depress (Late Middle English) has the basic sense of ‘press down’.

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: fourth es·tate

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