phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Phrases, Sayings and Idioms Home > Discussion Forum

Fourth estate

Posted by R. Berg on April 16, 2003

In Reply to: Re: Crossword clue posted by Bookworm on April 16, 2003

: : : Maybe I need to get out more, but I am stumped again. The clue was "Fourth estate" and the answer was "Press".

: : Fourth estate = journalists. By coincidence, the OED's Word of the Day is "fourth."

: Any idea how this term came about? What is its usage? Why fourth?

Webster's Second Unabridged says "The public press; the newspapers; --formerly applied variously, as to the army or the mob."

OED gives as sense 6 of "estate" "an order or class regarded as part of the body politic, and as such participating in the government either directly or through its representatives. . . . In England the 'estates' as represented in Parliament were originally: 1. Clergy; 2. Barons and Knights; 3. Commons; after various fluctuations, the final arrangement was 1. Lords Spiritual; 2. Lords Temporal; 3. Commons. . . ."

OED, sense 7b: "'The Fourth Estate': (a) formerly in various jocular applications . . . ; (b) now appropriated to the Press. We have failed to discover confirmation of Carlyle's statement (quot. 1841) attributing to Burke the use of this phrase to the application now current. A correspondent . . . states that he heard Brougham use it in the House of Commons in 1823 or 1824, and that it was at that time treated as original."
This is the "quot. 1841":
"Carlyle, 'Hero-worship', Lect. v, Burke said there were three Estates in Parliament, but in the Reporters' Gallery . . . there sat a fourth Estate more important far than they all."