fifth column

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fifth column

1. (originally) a group of Falangist sympathizers in Madrid during the Spanish Civil War who were prepared to join the four columns of insurgents marching on the city
2. any group of hostile or subversive infiltrators
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Fifth Column


a term used to designate a group of General Franco’s agents who operated in the Spanish Republic during the National Revolutionary War of 1936–39.

The term “fifth column” originated in early October 1936, when the Francoist general E. Mola declared on the radio that the rebels were conducting an offensive on Madrid using four columns, while the fifth would strike from the rear at the decisive moment. The fifth column spread panic and engaged in sabotage, espionage, and diversionary activity. During World War II the term was used to designate groups of Nazi agents in various countries who aided the fascist troops in the capture of these countries.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Thus Rawlings remarks, "I don't believe anything I hear and very little of what I see" (TFC 18), but he says this while interrogating a comrade who has fallen asleep at his post and allowed a fifth columnist to escape.
SIR Alex Ferguson will be shocked to learn that the worldwide conspiracy of referees, UEFA officials, BBC staff and Stamford Bridge stewards hell-bent on stopping Manchester United winning silverware has been joined by a fifth columnist. Late into Saturday's big game came the first sign that Chelsea's pounds 30m Andriy Shevchenko knows the season is actually underway when he made a vital goal-line clearance.
The British waged war against Fifth Columnist opinion in the United States to win over the public to their cause during the Second World War, it emerged today.
'We stand by the leadership of the party under Comrade Oshiomhole and we will resist alleged efforts of the fifth columnist to cause disaffection in the party.
And secondly, he's outed himself as a fifth columnist who threatens to destabilise a Labour government under Brown that promises to do more to help those who need it most.
Presupposing some computer hacker is not responsible for the drip, drip of inside information seeping from Number 10 then it must be the work of a fifth columnist at the heart of the Government machine.
Some of his list of what was wrong with the Welsh "nationalist" (which he could not describe as Quislings, traitors, fifth columnist etc) were: "Never lived out or worked outside the country, obsessed with cultural and national identity, no sense of humour, suspicious villagers distrustful of outsiders, babbling an incomprehensible language" - which shows how some English monoglots have been neutered from understanding the language that they use.
But before the Toon Army suspect they have a fifth columnist in their ranks, Hughes is quick to add that he is committed to Newcastle now.
THE Tories invited a potential fifth columnist into their midst when they asked opinion pollster Peter Kellner to attend their recent ideas symposium.
AXED Frank Clark left Maine Road for the last time yesterday, cursing Manchester City's fifth columnist.
CHARGE: Chief sports columnist ...more like fifth columnist. Put Tel in the dock over the Far East trip and the England coach's failure to discipline the players.
In the early days othe war, this nationwide eavesdropping service reported rumours of German paratroops disguised as nuns and an enduring terror that Britain was riddled with fifth columnists, ready to strike against us at any moment.