Definition of gadfly
- a political gadfly
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a loud sports commentator who was a tactless gadfly during post-game interviews with the losing team
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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."
A gadfly is a shareholder who publicly criticizes a company's executives at the annual shareholders meeting.
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.
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.
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