bellwether

noun
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

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms & Antonyms for bellwether

Synonyms

leader, pacemaker, pacer, pacesetter, trendsetter

Antonyms

follower, imitator

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Did You Know?

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 13th 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
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

Beyond the jobs at the plant, the jobs of those who supply the plant will also be at risk, as the auto industry has proved to be a bellwether of the economy. Danica Kirka, The Seattle Times, "Honda to shut plant in Brexit-shaken Britain," 20 Feb. 2019 Daylight Saving Time ends this Sunday—meaning clocks turn back one hour in a seasonal bellwether of the oncoming winter. Jenna Rennert, Vogue, "8 Eye Masks For the Best Beauty Sleep of Your Life," 29 Oct. 2018 Both considered bellwethers for November's midterm. Fox News, "Kellyanne Conway talks race relations in America; Sens. Graham and Reed on Space Force and sanctions," 12 Aug. 2018 The outlook from Caterpillar, considered an economic bellwether, comes as industries from manufacturing to services report increased sales and orders that have fueled record equity prices and buoyed investor expectations for this year. Bloomberg.com, "Rising Economic Tide Reaches All Shores for Buoyant Caterpillar," 25 Jan. 2018 Domestic revenue from its premium cabins—another key bellwether for the state of flyers’ budgets—continues to set records. Jon Sindreu, WSJ, "Flight Bookings Suggest U.S. Growth Is Still Ahead," 17 Jan. 2019 Strikes in Iran's bazaar also have served as political bellwethers. Jon Gambrell, Fox News, "Unease, anger in Tehran's Grand Bazaar, Iran's beating heart," 13 Sep. 2018 California and Texas stand as national bellwethers on urban policy, infrastructure, agriculture, borders, energy, and more. Robert Khederian, Curbed, "The United States of Texas and California, a new Facebook group about the states’ big issues," 10 Aug. 2018 By Jason Hancock Robertson called Missouri a bellwether state for right to work, where the playing ground is more even than in other conservative states. Allison Kite, kansascity, "Unions give big to block ‘right to work’ in expensive Missouri ballot initiative race," 25 June 2018

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.

See More

First Known Use of bellwether

13th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for bellwether

Middle English, leading sheep of a flock, leader, from belle bell + wether; from the practice of belling the leader of a flock

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about bellwether

Listen to Our Podcast about bellwether

Statistics for bellwether

Last Updated

23 May 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for bellwether

The first known use of bellwether was in the 13th century

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for bellwether

bellwether

noun

Financial Definition of bellwether

What It Is

A bellwether is a security or indicator that signals the market's direction.

How It Works

Let's assume XYZ Company is an auto manufacturer. If XYZ Company stock typically falls before the rest of the automotive sector falls or rises before the rest of the automotive sector rises, we could consider XYZ Company a bellwether of the auto industry.

A security's bellwether status changes over time, but in the equities markets the largest, most well-established companies in an industry are often the bellwethers (the 20-year Treasury bond is considered a bond bellwether). Usually profitable and stable, most have a solid competitive position, established customer bases and solid brand loyalty. Some have even proven to be exceptionally resilient during weak economic times. These stocks also form the foundation of most major market indices -- large-cap bellwethers dominate the Dow Jones Industrials, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite.

Why It Matters

There is a connection between bellwether status and institutional ownership. Bellwether stocks often have large institutional ownership, and institutions often have tremendous influence on stock prices. But because most mutual funds engage in some form of indexing -- most commonly by benchmarking against the S&P 500 -- those investors who don't own bellwether stocks directly probably still have exposure to them through their mutual fund holdings.

Although bellwether stocks may signal things to come, they are not always the most attractive investments in their sectors. By the time a company reaches bellwether status, its market-beating growth days are usually well behind it and its enormous size makes meaningful expansion difficult to come by. Instead, investors may consider using bellwether stocks as indicators but investing in up-and-coming bellwethers that still have plenty of growth potential ahead of them.

Source: Investing Answers

bellwether

noun

English Language Learners Definition of bellwether

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

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on bellwether

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with bellwether

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for bellwether

Spanish Central: Translation of bellwether

Nglish: Translation of bellwether for Spanish Speakers

Comments on bellwether

What made you want to look up bellwether? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

a device or gadget

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words for Summer: A Quiz

  • a closeup of a sunflower
  • Which of the following words means “of or relating to summer”?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

TAKE THE QUIZ
SCRABBLE® Sprint

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!