"next in order after the third; an ordinal numeral; being one of four equal parts into which a whole is regarded as divided;" mid-15c., alteration (by influence of four), of ferthe, from Old English feorða "fourth," from Proto-Germanic *feurthan (source also of Old Saxon fiortho, Old Norse fiorðe, Dutch vierde, Old High German fiordo, German vierte); see four + -th (1). As a noun from 1590s, both of fractions and in music.
Among the old Quakers, who rejected the pagan weekday names, fourth day was Wednesday, often a secondary day of meeting for worship. Fourth-dimension attested from 1844. The theatrical fourth wall is from 1807. The celebration of the Fourth of July as the epoch of American independence is attested from 1777.
That there is due to Daniel Smith, of the city tavern, for his bill of expences of Congress, on the 4 of July last, including a balance of an old account, the sum of 729 68/90 dollars; also a bill for materials, workmanship, &c furnished for the fire works on the 4 July, the sum of 102 69/90 dollars .... [Auditor General's report, Aug. 8, 1777, Journals of Congress, vol. VII]
"the press," by 1824, and especially from 1831, British English. For the other three, see estate. Earlier the term had been applied in various senses that did not stick, including "the mob" (1752), "the lawyers" (1825). The extension to the press is perhaps an outgrowth of the former.
Hence, through the light of letters and the liberty of the press, public opinion has risen to the rank of a fourth estate in our constitution; in times of quiet and order, silent and still, but in the collisions of the different branches of our government, deciding as an umpire with unbounded authority. ["Memoir of James Currie, M.D.," 1831]
[Newspapers] began to assume some degree of political importance, during the civil wars of the seventeenth century, in England; but it is not until within the last fifty years that they have become, — as they are now justly styled, — a Fourth Estate, exercising a more powerful influence on the public affairs of the countries in which they are permitted to circulate freely, than the other three put together. [Alexander H. Everett, "Address to the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Bowdoin College," 1834]
"next in order after the fourth; an ordinal numeral; being one of five equal parts into which a whole is regarded as divided;" c. 1200, fift, from Old English fifta "fifth," from Proto-Germanic *finftan- (source also of Old Frisian fifta, Old Saxon fifto, Old Norse fimmti, Dutch vijfde, Old High German fimfto, German fünfte, Gothic fimfta),from *fimfe "five" (from PIE root *penkwe- "five") + *-tha, the word-forming element used to make ordinal numbers (see -th (1)). Normal development would have yielded fift; altered 14c. by influence of fourth.
Noun meaning "fifth part of a gallon of liquor" is first recorded 1938, American English; the noun in the music sense is from 1590s. Fifth Avenue (in New York City) has been used figuratively for "elegance, taste" at least since 1858. Fifth wheel "superfluous person or thing" attested from 1630s. It also was the name of a useful device, "wheel-plate or circle iron of a carriage" placed on the forward axle for support and to facilitate turning (1825). And the phrase sometimes is turned on its head and given a positive sense of "that which a prudent driver ought to take with him in case one of the others should break" (1817). Fifth-monarchy-man, 17c. for "anarchist zealot," is a reference to Daniel ii.44.
It forms all or part of: cadre; cahier; carillon; carrefour; catty-cornered; diatessaron; escadrille; farthing; firkin; fortnight; forty; four; fourteen; fourth; quadrant; quadraphonic; quadratic; quadri-; quadrilateral; quadriliteral; quadrille; quadriplegia; quadrivium; quadroon; quadru-; quadruped; quadruple; quadruplicate; quarantine; quarrel (n.2) "square-headed bolt for a crossbow;" quarry (n.2) "open place where rocks are excavated;" quart; quarter; quarterback; quartermaster; quarters; quartet; quarto; quaternary; quatrain; quattrocento; quire (n.1) "set of four folded pages for a book;" squad; square; tessellated; tetra-; tetracycline; tetrad; tetragrammaton; tetrameter; tetrarch; trapezium.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit catvarah, Avestan čathwaro, Persian čatvar, Greek tessares, Latin quattuor, Oscan petora, Old Church Slavonic četyre, Lithuanian keturi, Old Irish cethir, Welsh pedwar.
liquid measure of capacity equal to one-fourth of a gallon, early 14c., from Old French quarte "a fourth part" (13c.), from Latin quarta (pars), fem. of quartus "the fourth, fourth part" (related to quattuor "four," from PIE root *kwetwer- "four").
Compare Latin quartarius "fourth part," also the name of a small liquid measure (the fourth part of a sextarius), which was about the same as an English pint.
"book from paper folded twice to make four pages to the sheet, size of book in which the leaf is one-fourth of a certain size of paper," late 15c., in the phrase in quarto, from Medieval Latin in quarto "in the fourth (part of a sheet of paper)," from quarto, ablative singular of Latin quartus "the fourth, fourth part" (related to quattuor "four," from PIE root *kwetwer- "four").
"having to do with the fourth," especially of attacks of an intermittent fever, etc., "occurring every fourth day" (by inclusive reckoning; now we would say every third day), early 14c., (feuer) quartain, from Old French (fievre) quartaine or cartaine and directly from Latin (febris) quartana, "quartan (fever)," fem. of quartanus "of or belonging to the fourth; of or occurring on the fourth day," from quartus "the fourth, fourth part" (related to quattuor "four," from PIE root *kwetwer- "four").
Also as a noun, "an ague or fever which recurs on the fourth (third) day," late 14c. Under inclusive reckoning, both days of consecutive occurrence are counted (if you have it on Wednesday and again on Saturday, the ancients would count that as "every four days").
also quartette, 1773, "musical composition for four solo instruments or voices," from French quartette, from Italian quartetto, diminutive of quarto "fourth," from Latin quartus "the fourth, fourth part" (related to quattuor "four," from PIE root *kwetwer- "four"). Meaning "set of four singers or musical players who perform quartets" is from 1814.
by 1781, an alteration (by influence of words in quadr-) of quarteroon (1707), "offspring of a white and a mulatto," from Spanish cuarteron (used chiefly of the offspring of a European and a mestizo), literally "one who has a fourth" (Negro blood), from cuarto "fourth," from Latin quartus "the fourth, fourth part," which is related to quattuor "four" (from PIE root *kwetwer- "four").
So called because he or she has one quarter African blood. There also was some use in 19c. of quintroon (from Spanish quinteron) "one who is fifth in descent from a Negro; one who has one-sixteenth Negro blood." OED lists quarter-caste as an Australian and New Zealand term for a person whose ancestry is one-quarter Aboriginal or Maori and 3/4 white (1948).