bell·​weth·​er ˈbel-ˈwe-t͟hər How to pronounce bellwether (audio)
: one that takes the lead or initiative : leader
also : an indicator of trends

Did you know?

Because it suggests the act of forecasting, one might be inclined to think that bellwether has something to do with weather. But the wether in bellwether has nothing to do with meteorology. Instead, to learn whither wether, we must head to the sheep farm. We usually think of sheep more as followers than leaders, but in a flock one sheep must lead the way. Since long ago, it has been common practice for shepherds to hang a bell around the neck of one sheep in their flock, thereby designating it the lead sheep. This animal was historically called the bellwether, a word formed by a combination of the Middle English words belle (meaning “bell”) and wether (a noun that refers to a male sheep, and today specifically to a castrated male sheep). It eventually followed that bellwether would come to refer to someone who takes initiative or who actively establishes a trend that is taken up by others. This usage first appeared in English in the 15th century and has remained in the language ever since.

Examples of bellwether in a Sentence

She is a bellwether of fashion. High-tech bellwethers led the decline in the stock market. a county that is a bellwether in national elections
Recent Examples on the Web Instacart is one of three IPOs acting as bellwethers for a recovering IPO market, alongside chip designer Arm (debuting this week) and marketing platform Klaviyo. Alan Murray, Fortune, 11 Sep. 2023 Viewed as a bellwether for internet speech and private rights in the face of government power, the cases take place against the backdrop of conservative claims that major social media platforms have a political agenda to discriminate against right-wing users by stifling their speech. Brian Fung, CNN, 14 Aug. 2023 The annual auctions during Monterey Car Week, considered the bellwether for market values, reached a little more than $400 million across five auction houses, down from $473 million last year. Hannah Elliott, Fortune, 14 Nov. 2023 The new center underscores the growth of the festival, which has become a bellwether for what’s to come in the cinematography Oscar race. Carolyn Giardina, The Hollywood Reporter, 11 Nov. 2023 The outcome of the intense, off-year election could be a bellwether for 2024, when Democrats hope the issue will energize their voters and help President Joe Biden keep the White House. Compiled By Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports, Arkansas Online, 8 Nov. 2023 Maersk, a bellwether for global trade, saw its third-quarter profit plummet to $521 million from $8.88 billion last year. Dominic Chopping, WSJ, 3 Nov. 2023 This year’s South by Southwest conference — often a bellwether for trends in tech and media — was awash with entrepreneurs promising to revamp the pop culture landscape with generative artificial intelligence technology. Brian Contreras, Los Angeles Times, 6 Aug. 2023 The legal battle is closely watched because it is viewed as a bellwether for TikTok’s future in the United States, where dozens of states and the US government have already banned the app on official devices but have so far refrained from blocking the app on private devices. Brian Fung, CNN, 12 Oct. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'bellwether.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English bellewether, belleweder "castrated ram with a bell around his neck followed by the other sheep in a flock, leader," from belle bell entry 1 + wether, weder wether

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of bellwether was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near bellwether

Cite this Entry

“Bellwether.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


bell·​weth·​er ˈbel-ˈwet͟h-ər How to pronounce bellwether (audio)
: someone or something that leads the way or points out a trend
a bellwether of fashion
a county that is a bellwether in national elections

from earlier bellwether "leading sheep (or wether) of a flock," from the fact that this sheep wore a bell which told the shepherd where the flock was

More from Merriam-Webster on bellwether

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