bell·​weth·​er | \ ˈbel-ˈwe-t͟hər, -ˌwe-\

Definition of bellwether

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

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Synonyms & Antonyms for bellwether


leader, pacemaker, pacer, pacesetter, trendsetter


follower, imitator

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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
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Recent Examples on the Web

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 The bellwether state also held primaries in several congressional districts that could be key to Democratic hopes to take control of the House in the fall general elections., "Devoted Trump supporter Stewart wins Virginia GOP Senate nom," 13 June 2018 Settlement talks will continue, but the parties will also move forward with document discovery, further briefing and the scheduling of bellwether trials, according to Wednesday’s order. Sara Randazzo, WSJ, "Opioid Settlement Talks Hit Headwinds," 7 Mar. 2018 The Danish conglomerate moves 18% of the world’s containers and is often seen as a bellwether for world trade, which is currently under threat by the prospect of a global economic slowdown and the Trump administration’s protectionist policies. Jon Sindreu, WSJ, "The Shipping Industry Sends a Trade Warning," 14 Nov. 2018 Maddow’s fears were soon realized and, like in 2016, Florida was a bellwether. David Bauder, The Seattle Times, "Midterm coverage was a roller-coaster ride of dips and dives," 7 Nov. 2018 With a federal election in the country scheduled for next October, Québec’s election could be a bellwether for Trudeau. Fox News, "Canada struggling with illegal border 'crisis' of its own ahead of crucial elections," 16 Aug. 2018 The first five of those suits, considered bellwether cases that would determine how the others would go to trial, had been scheduled for early 2019 court dates. Mark Schleifstein,, "42 oil wetland damage suits move back to federal courts," 30 May 2018 Travelers, 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 that follow. Nicole Friedman, WSJ, "Travelers Profit Rises as Catastrophe Losses Shrink," 18 Oct. 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.

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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

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Last Updated

27 Dec 2018

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

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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.

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English Language Learners Definition of bellwether

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

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More from Merriam-Webster on bellwether

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with bellwether

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Spanish Central: Translation of bellwether

Nglish: Translation of bellwether for Spanish Speakers

Comments on bellwether

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tremendous in size, volume, or degree

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