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

The bellwether of the cryptocurrency world rose 8 percent to $6,360.45 as of 11:23 a.m. in New York on Saturday, according to Bitstamp prices. Fortune, "Bitcoin Jumps Back Above $6,000 on Saturday," 30 June 2018 Lee Zeldin, John Faso and John Katko, whose races could be bellwethers of whether a national wave is building. Herb Jackson, USA TODAY, "Primaries 2018: Can Grimm go from prison to Congress? Will Oklahoma OK pot?," 22 June 2018 Photo: William DeShazer for The Wall Street Journal Tennessee, which hasn’t had a Democratic senator in more than two decades, could be a bellwether of how things turn out on Election Day. Janet Hook, WSJ, "The Battle for the Senate Runs Through Tennessee," 9 May 2018 As the bellwether of streaming, Spotify has been dictating the narrative for years, but always with the focus of being a partner for rights holders. Hannah Karp, Billboard, "As Market Cheers Spotify's Direct Deals With Artists and Managers, Labels Mull Their Options," 15 June 2018 Levels straddled 60 in 2014, before oil prices plunged severely along with state revenue and the oil-industry employment considered a bellwether of Alaska's economy. Alex Demarban, Anchorage Daily News, "Surveys: Alaskans’ economic outlook is looking up," 24 Apr. 2018 And then there’s the 15-season-old bellwether of foodie fame: Top Chef decides to tape a season in your city. Laura Dannen Redman, Condé Nast Traveler, "Denver Is Officially a Food City," 18 Apr. 2018 Bellwether Many are looking at Tarrant County this upcoming election, because this area has long been considered a bellwether for the state. Anna M. Tinsley, star-telegram, "Blue wave? U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey suggests Texas Democrats take anger and faith to the polls," 23 June 2018 Retail bellwether: Macy's reports its fiscal first-quarter earnings Wednesday, and analysts will be looking to see how well the major retailer is dealing with shifting consumer-shopping trends. David Lazarus,, "California Inc.: TV networks, eyeing big bucks, lay out prime-time plans for advertisers," 14 May 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

1 Nov 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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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).


playful or foolish behavior

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