Definition of fifth column in English:

fifth column


  • A group within a country at war who are sympathetic to or working for its enemies.

    • ‘In 1940 they spiralled to a figure above 1,200 in response to national anxieties about the fifth column.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Feared as a fifth column, the entire community lived under harsh military administration from 1948 until 1966.’
    • ‘It has become nothing short of a national menace, an enemy of this country's interests and a fifth column in time of war.’
    • ‘The government used the alliance to label them a fifth column fighting alongside the enemy during a time of war.’
    • ‘Indeed, they now realise that the foreigners are, in fact, trained and equipped mercenaries despatched by a hostile country to act as its fifth column.’
    • ‘For they stand accused of being a fifth column, a homegrown wing of a global movement bent on terrorising the West.’
    • ‘Democratic governments played on the fear of a fifth column within in order to bolster the national purpose.’
    • ‘Who needs the fifth column and undercover agents when you have politicians lining up to do the devil's bidding?’
    • ‘They were still viewed as a fifth column liable to join forces with the country's enemies at a moment's notice.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘It is playing on xenophobia to persuade people there is a fifth column in this country and show that something is being done.’
    • ‘I want to warn against the fifth column here that tries to corrode our way of life.’
    • ‘Allegations that they may constitute a fifth column are beginning to look increasingly shallow.’
    • ‘They are discriminated against because of fear that they could be a fifth column which would destroy the state from within.’
    • ‘This refugee was a person who could not be trusted because of their feigned conditions, false identities, and suspected links to a fifth column or underworld.’
    • ‘The decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead - and may well mount a fifth column.’
    • ‘In some respects, too much of the fourth estate seems to act like a fifth column in this country.’
    • ‘The reason this country is so successful in its spying is that it has a fifth column in almost every country in the world of people who are more loyal to it than they are to their own country.’
    • ‘He feared the activities of a communist fifth column, and enacted draconian laws to restrict free expression and assembly.’


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


fifth column