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

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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 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
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Recent Examples on the Web His reelection campaign, however, is certain to serve as a bellwether for Democrats whose constituents are often employed by drug companies. Lev Facher, STAT, "3 congressional races to watch in 2020," 27 Dec. 2019 Finally, the tigers are important as economic bellwethers for the rest of the world. The Economist, "Asian tigersAfter half a century of success, the Asian tigers must reinvent themselves," 5 Dec. 2019 Among the states planning to stick to a caucus system, Iowa and Nevada have attracted the most attention, largely because their early spots on the nominating calendar make them bellwethers of national success. Eren Orbey, The New Yorker, "A Virtual Threat to Iowa’s First-in-the-Nation Caucuses," 30 Aug. 2019 The flex position has become a bellwether of sorts in modern day fantasy football. Tj Hernandez, Sports Illustrated, "How to Win the Flex Position in Fantasy Football," 24 June 2019 So, there's a lot being said about the Cuyahoga County and the Summit County trials being the bellwether of all of these hundreds of other lawsuits that have been filed and consolidated here in Cleveland. cleveland, "If Cuyahoga County defeats Dave Yost’s heavy-handed cash grab, will it spend its millions helping countless addicts to recover? This Week in the CLE," 5 Oct. 2019 By the end of June, the number of apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border — a bellwether of migration patterns — decreased for the first time since January. Rafael Carranza, azcentral, "Large groups of migrants stop crossing at the Arizona-Mexico border," 19 Aug. 2019 Attorneys and city leaders are closely watching a lawsuit from James’ estate, saying the case may prove a bellwether for the raft of police corruption lawsuits slated to come. Tim Prudente,, "Will Baltimore have to pay for rogue Gun Trace Task Force officers' misdeeds? One lawsuit is a bellwether.," 4 July 2019 In more than a dozen conversations with residents in Jefferson County, Colorado’s political bellwether, over the past several weeks, themes emerged. Justin Wingerter, The Denver Post, "In a Colorado bellwether, stark divides on Trump and impeachment," 10 Nov. 2019

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

13th 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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Time Traveler for bellwether

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

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Last Updated

11 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Bellwether.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 18 January 2020.

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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


How to pronounce bellwether (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of bellwether

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

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Spanish Central: Translation of bellwether

Nglish: Translation of bellwether for Spanish Speakers

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