bell·​weth·​er | \ ˈbel-ˈwe-t͟hər How to pronounce bellwether (audio) , -ˌwe- \

Definition of bellwether

: one that takes the lead or initiative : leader also : an indicator of trends

Synonyms & Antonyms for bellwether



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We usually think of sheep more as followers than leaders, but in a flock one sheep must lead the way. Long ago, it was 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 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 that has been castrated). 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.

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
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Recent Examples on the Web The company, part of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, is one of the first big property-casualty insurers to report quarterly earnings, and its results are watched closely as a bellwether for others. Leslie Scism, WSJ, 20 Jan. 2022 The Democrats’ loss in Virginia’s gubernatorial race this fall is being seen as a bellwether for how education issues will play out in elections. Molly Osberg, The New Republic, 14 Jan. 2022 In previous years, the Globes were seen as a bellwether for the Academy Awards. NBC News, 10 Jan. 2022 BuzzFeed's stock performance will serve as a bellwether for the rest of the media industry. Kerry Flynn, CNN, 6 Dec. 2021 Like the work of James Baldwin, Didion’s observations may eventually be seen as an early bellwether for the ills that might just finally undo the Union. Lesley M.m. Blume, Town & Country, 5 Jan. 2022 After a shock like Covid-19, a hot job market isn’t a textbook bellwether of an economy’s closeness to its potential. Jon Sindreu, WSJ, 4 Jan. 2022 Is this win a bellwether for what's in store in 2022? Rainer Sabin, Detroit Free Press, 31 Dec. 2021 Will Supporting Actress be a Best Picture bellwether? Nate Jones, Vulture, 31 Dec. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'bellwether.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of bellwether

15th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for bellwether

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

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

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Dictionary Entries Near bellwether



bell wire

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Last Updated

25 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Bellwether.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Jan. 2022.

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English Language Learners Definition of bellwether

: someone or something that leads others or shows what will happen in the future

More from Merriam-Webster on bellwether

Nglish: Translation of bellwether for Spanish Speakers


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