gadfly

noun gad·fly \ ˈgad-ˌflī \
Updated on: 9 Nov 2017

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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Examples of gadfly in a Sentence

  1. a loud sports commentator who was a tactless gadfly during post-game interviews with the losing team

Recent Examples of gadfly from the Web

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.

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."

Origin and Etymology of gadfly

Other Insect Terms


Financial Definition of GADFLY

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.


GADFLY Defined for English Language Learners

gadfly

noun

Definition of gadfly for English Language Learners

  • : someone who annoys people by being very critical


GADFLY Defined for Kids

gadfly

noun gad·fly \ ˈgad-ˌflī \

Definition of gadfly for Students

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

Medical Dictionary

gadfly

noun gad·fly \ ˈgad-ˌflī \

medical Definition of gadfly

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


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