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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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 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 Political observers had looked at this race as a potential bellwether for the presidential elections next year, given the rise of the GOP’s strength in the Bluegrass State and the struggles of President Trump., "The president also held a campaign event Friday in Mississippi, where Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, a Republican, was pitted against Attorney General Jim Hood, an anti-abortion, pro-gun Democrat, in the governor’s race.," 6 Nov. 2019 The report was released as the first federal trial on the epidemic was getting underway in Cleveland, a case widely seen as a bellwether for how future lawsuits against drug companies are handled. Rachel Siegel, Washington Post, "Opioid crisis cost U.S. economy at least $631 billion, study finds," 17 Oct. 2019 Both parties were watching Saturday's race as a potential bellwether for two upcoming gubernatorial races in the South next month, in Kentucky and Mississippi. NBC News, "In win for Trump. Democratic Louisiana governor faces runoff," 13 Oct. 2019 On Tuesday, the CEO of FedEx, a company often seen as a bellwether for the global economy, called out such a discrepancy in what sounded like a Cassandra-like warning. Kevin Kelleher, Fortune, "Here’s Why the Fed is So Conflicted on Whether There’s a Recession Coming," 18 Sep. 2019 Next month’s trial on behalf of the Ohio counties of Summit, which includes Akron, and Cuyahoga, which includes Cleveland, are viewed by Polster as a bellwether that could shape how other lawsuits are eventually resolved. Mark Gillispie,, "Drug company attorneys seek to disqualify federal judge in opioid trial," 14 Sep. 2019 Next month's trial on behalf of the Ohio counties of Summit, which includes Akron, and Cuyahoga, which includes Cleveland, are viewed by Polster as a bellwether that could shape how other lawsuits are resolved. Mark Gillispie,, "Drug companies facing trial for their roles in national opioid crisis seek to disqualify federal judge," 14 Sep. 2019 Two bellwether cases in Ohio are set for trial in October, and the federal judge presiding over the consolidated opioid cases has been urging parties to settle. Ephrat Livni, Quartz, "Purdue Pharma offers billions to settle opioids lawsuits. Some states say it’s not enough," 11 Sep. 2019 Pomona met in a 5A battle that figured to be an early bellwether for the Eagles’ status as de facto state title favorites. Matt Schubert, The Denver Post, "Colorado Prep Football Rewind, Week 3: Green Mountain’s upset victory, Valor hangs on and going for the win," 14 Sep. 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

15 Nov 2019

Cite this Entry

“Bellwether.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 22 November 2019.

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More Definitions for bellwether



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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Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for bellwether

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with bellwether

Spanish Central: Translation of bellwether

Nglish: Translation of bellwether for Spanish Speakers

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