The Spanish Civil War Enriches the Vocabulary

Saturday 7th November 1936

The latest phase of the Spanish Civil War enriched the vocabulary in two ways. At a more parochial level the insurgents had branded themselves as the Nationalists, which has tended to stick in the accounts of the conflict, more because all other terms proved unattractive than because of its accuracy. The other was also an exercise in propaganda – transparently aimed at unsettling the other side –but it created a term that endures to this day. The insurgent army was advancing on Republican-held Madrid in four columns and one of their Generals Emilio Mola boasted that there was a “fifth column” of supporters already in the city.

It was mythical, but friendly media reported attacks by Falangists, Guardia Civil and Shock Guards as fact. When Ernest Hemingway used the phrase as the title of his only played, written whilst he was in the besieged city, its future was guaranteed.


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