gad·​fly | \ ˈgad-ˌflī How to pronounce gadfly (audio) \

Definition of gadfly

1 : any of various flies (such as a horsefly, botfly, or warble fly) that bite or annoy livestock
2 : a person who stimulates or annoys other people especially by persistent criticism a political gadfly

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The Gadfly of Athens

The history of gadfly starts with gad, which now means "chisel" but which formerly could designate a spike, spear, or rod for goading cattle. Late in the 16th century, gad was joined with fly to designate any of several insects that aggravate livestock. Before too long, we began applying gadfly to people who annoy or provoke others. One of history's most famous gadflies was the philosopher Socrates, who was known for his constant questioning of his fellow Athenians' ethics, misconceptions, and assumptions. In his Apology, Plato describes Socrates' characterization of Athens as a large and sluggish horse and of Socrates himself as the fly that bites and rouses it. Many translations use gadfly in this portion of the Apology, and Socrates is sometimes referred to as the "gadfly of Athens."

Examples of gadfly in a Sentence

a loud sports commentator who was a tactless gadfly during post-game interviews with the losing team
Recent Examples on the Web In the case of Stone, Robert Mueller had a particular interest in the gadfly as a possible instrument of collusion with the Russians and, though that obviously didn’t pan out, threw the book at him for his dishonesty and shady maneuverings. The Editors, National Review, "Bill Barr Is Right about Trump’s Tweets," 14 Feb. 2020 For several decades, Michael O’Callaghan was one of Anchorage’s most colorful activists and political gadflies. David Reamer, Anchorage Daily News, "How Michael O’Callaghan went from Anchorage activist to Portland’s homeless mayoral candidate," 9 Mar. 2020 Transit activists, transit executives, disability-rights advocates, labor leaders, bus and subway workers, good-government gadflies, and straphangers from every borough expressed shock and dismay. William Finnegan, The New Yorker, "Andy Byford’s Last Day with New York’s Transit System," 20 Feb. 2020 The strike knocked out half of the kingdom’s crude production, a palpable hit compared with the Houthis’ usual gadfly attacks on airports and facilities near the Saudi-Yemeni border. Nabih Bulos, Los Angeles Times, "Saudi Arabia says it’s ‘willing and able’ to respond to Iran. Is it?," 20 Sep. 2019 An entrepreneur, the creator of a nonprofit, a political gadfly, and most famously, an advocate of something called universal basic income, which would give $1,000 a month to every American adult. NBC News, "Meet the Press - November 3, 2019," 3 Nov. 2019 The Vermont senator and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, as a gadfly political candidate in 1974, railed against the presence of 351 Jamaican guest workers in his state's apple orchards, which were seeing a record harvest. Joseph Simonson, Washington Examiner, "'Our own people are out of work': Bernie Sanders railed against US guest workers from Jamaica," 1 Feb. 2020 The billionaire political gadfly, best known for running cable TV ads calling for the impeachment of President Trump, has never held public office., "Steyer takes a progressive stand on a range of issues, but his priority is climate change.," 24 Dec. 2019 For thirty years, Corbyn had been considered at best an entertaining gadfly. David Graeber, The New York Review of Books, "The Center Blows Itself Up: Care and Spite in the ‘Brexit Election’," 13 Jan. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'gadfly.' 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 gadfly

1569, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for gadfly

gad entry 1 + fly entry 4

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Time Traveler for gadfly

Time Traveler

The first known use of gadfly was in 1569

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Statistics for gadfly

Last Updated

16 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Gadfly.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for gadfly



Financial Definition of gadfly

What It Is

A gadfly is a shareholder who publicly criticizes a company's executives at the annual shareholders meeting.

How It Works

The term gets its name from the insect, which bites and annoys animals (usually livestock).

There are many famous gadflies, but one of the most notable was Evelyn Y. Davis, who spent 40 years confronting managers at annual meetings regarding their compensation and performance. Sometimes she wore costumes and bathing suits in the meetings to get attention. In one instance, she badgered the board of Bristol-Myers Squibb to change its corporate charter to require annual elections for all board members. She was able to get Dow Jones and a real estate firm to follow suit as well. In 2003, she made more than 50 proposals at various companies, including (but not limited to) AT&T, DuPont, Ford, and JPMorgan.

Why It Matters

Gadflies are annoying to management, but they are useful to the rest of us. They often draw attention to problems that others may have overlooked, and they can encourage action from other shareholders. Their courage to stand up and dissent is notable if not entertaining at times.

Source: Investing Answers


How to pronounce gadfly (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of gadfly

: someone who annoys people by being very critical


gad·​fly | \ ˈgad-ˌflī How to pronounce gadfly (audio) \
plural gadflies

Kids Definition of gadfly

1 : a large biting fly
2 : a person who annoys others especially with constant criticism

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gad·​fly | \ ˈgad-ˌflī How to pronounce gadfly (audio) \
plural gadflies

Medical Definition of gadfly

: any of various flies (as a horsefly, botfly, or warble fly) that bite or annoy livestock

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More from Merriam-Webster on gadfly

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for gadfly

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with gadfly

Spanish Central: Translation of gadfly

Nglish: Translation of gadfly for Spanish Speakers

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