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Fourth estate

Posted by ESC on April 16, 2003

In Reply to: 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?

FOURTH ESTATE - "the press, now outdated and used ironically. Books of quotations usually credit Edmund Burke with coinage, thanks to a citation by historian Thomas Carlyle in 'Heroes and Hero-Worship' written in 1839: 'Burke said that there were three estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than them all.' When diligent research failed to turn up the phrase in anything Burke said or wrote, some quotation detectives assumed Carlyle was referring to Lord Macaulay, who said in 1828: 'The gallery in which the reporters sit has become a fourth estate of the realm.' 'Fourth estate' had been used in both England and France, usually in reference to 'the mob' (the other estates being the king, the clergy and the commons, all powers whose agreement was necessary for legislation). The OED suggests that Lord Brougham used it in Commons in 1823 applied to the press, 'and at that time is was treated as original.' The vote of this lexicographer for the coiner of this phrase goes to English essayist William Hazlitt, who wrote on the character of William Cobbett in an 1821 'Table Talk'. 'He is a kind of 'fourth estate' in the politics of the country.'." From "Safire's New Political Dictionary" by William Safire (Random House, New York, 1993).