What does “plead the fifth” mean? So what do you say if you are passing through the kitchen and your roommate suddenly asks you if you stole their last packet of Thin Mints? If you didn’t steal their cookies, you could tell the truth that you are innocent of any cookie theft! However, if you are guilty, you might exclaim, “I plead the fifth!” and run out of the room.
The chances are that at that point, your roommate knows exactly what you did. But using the phrase “plead the fifth” is a fun way to avoid interrogation while hinting that you may be guilty. But where does the phrase originate? Here we will talk about what people mean when they plead the fifth and how the term has been adopted into everyday conversation.
Plead the Fifth
What Does “Plead the Fifth” Mean?
In everyday conversation, you might say, “I plead the fifth,” when you want to playfully avoid a direct admission of guilt, but you don’t want to deny responsibility. You could always lie, but using the phrase has become a fun way to hint at your wrongdoing to an accusor when the issue is not that serious.
You might also say it to avoid incriminating someone close to you. Say your little brother snuck out of his room last night, and your mom suspects something is up. You, of course, know he snuck out. Since you don’t want to snitch when your mom asks, you might say, “I plead the fifth,” and shrug. These days, the phrase is somewhat incriminating, but it is often said in fun, and everyone knows what is really going on.
What is the Origin of the Phrase, “To Plead the Fifth?”
Pleading the Fifth comes from the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the action a person takes in court when using that amendment. The Fifth Amendment gives a defendant the right not to testify or answer a question while under oath so that they don’t have to incriminate themselves.
Basically, if you are on trial or a witness to a crime, someone cannot force you to admit guilt or answer a line of questioning that may reveal some criminal wrongdoing. Otherwise, if an honest person were asked, “did you do it?” they might feel compelled to answer truthfully since they are under oath.
Overtime, pleading the fifth in court has ironically become seen as a sort of admission of guilt. The logic being: if you have nothing to hide, then why avoid answering the question? When we use the phrase in everyday conversation, most people know that it means we are guilty, but that is part of the fun.
Other Ways to Say “I plead the fifth.”
Something a person might say instead of “I plead the fifth” is “no comment” or “decline to comment.” Both of these phrases have a way of making the speaker seem guilty. If you are not guilty, then why not just deny the wrongdoing outright? Chances are one doesn’t want to lie, but they also don’t want to tell people they did whatever it is they are being accused of.
Examples of Plead the Fifth
- “Jane, did you take my favorite pen?” asked Tom. “I plead the fifth” Jane replied.
- As I was leaving, my father asked, “Did you finish your homework?” I replied with, “I plead the fifth!”
Casually using this phrase pokes fun because when someone does this seriously in a court of law, it makes the person look very suspicious. This means it can be a fun way to joke with your friends and family when you commit a harmless little offense. So when your best friend knowingly asks you if you took their cookies, smile and say, “I plead the fifth!”