Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Journalists considered as a group; the public press.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A hypothetical fourth class of civic subjects, or fourth body (in Britain, after the Crown, and the two Houses of Parliament) which governed legislation.
  • n. Journalism or journalists considered as a group; the Press.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. the press, including journalists, newspaper writers, photographers

Etymologies

The three (in England) estates were originally the three classes of people who could participate in government, either directly or by electing representatives – originally the clergy, barons/knights, and the commons (though they changed over time). Later the "three estates" were misunderstood as being the three governmental powers necessary for legislation: the Crown, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons; from there, the idea of a "fourth estate" was often used in satirical or jocular expressions, before developing a fixed association with the Press. (Wiktionary)

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