Definition of fifth column in English:

fifth column


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

    • ‘It has become nothing short of a national menace, an enemy of this country's interests and a fifth column in time of war.’
    • ‘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?’
    • ‘Feared as a fifth column, the entire community lived under harsh military administration from 1948 until 1966.’
    • ‘The decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead - and may well mount a fifth column.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘He feared the activities of a communist fifth column, and enacted draconian laws to restrict free expression and assembly.’
    • ‘I want to warn against the fifth column here that tries to corrode our way of life.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The government used the alliance to label them a fifth column fighting alongside the enemy during a time of war.’
    • ‘For they stand accused of being a fifth column, a homegrown wing of a global movement bent on terrorising the West.’
    • ‘It is playing on xenophobia to persuade people there is a fifth column in this country and show that something is being done.’
    • ‘They are discriminated against because of fear that they could be a fifth column which would destroy the state from within.’
    • ‘Allegations that they may constitute a fifth column are beginning to look increasingly shallow.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘In 1940 they spiralled to a figure above 1,200 in response to national anxieties about the fifth column.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘They were still viewed as a fifth column liable to join forces with the country's enemies at a moment's notice.’
    • ‘In some respects, too much of the fourth estate seems to act like a fifth column in this country.’


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