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 Schaefer, a San Diego city councilman in the 1960s, current vice chair of the state Board of Equalization and perennial gadfly, fired off an inquiry to Mayor Todd Gloria. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Column: Is the Spruce Street suspension bridge open or closed?," 19 Feb. 2021 No longer the gadfly, Navalny is now an international symbol of resistance to Putin and the Kremlin elite, the leader of a growing opposition movement. Anton Troianovski,, "A life in opposition: Navalny’s path from gadfly to heroic symbol," 13 Feb. 2021 No longer the gadfly, Mr. Navalny is now an international symbol of resistance to Mr. Putin and the Kremlin elite, the leader of a growing opposition movement. New York Times, "A Life in Opposition: Navalny’s Path From Gadfly to Heroic Symbol," 13 Feb. 2021 Many brushed him off as an obstinate gadfly, but his wife and son stayed home, saving them from outings that would soon sicken relatives. Dake Kang, Star Tribune, "Year after lockdown, Wuhan dissident more isolated than ever," 23 Jan. 2021 Despite his often gadfly position in the GOP, there are reasons for Hawley to be optimistic. Zaid Jilani, Washington Examiner, "Man in the arena," 31 Dec. 2020 And there’s a sweet sort of irony to the fact that this modern-day auteur’s first film about moviemaking spotlights a Hollywood gadfly who had to fight to be recognized for his contribution to a masterpiece. David Sims, The Atlantic, "David Fincher’s Theory of Moviemaking," 4 Dec. 2020 There were unexpected grace notes for Kate Nash’s British goof and Chris Lowell's closeted gadfly, and lots of wonderful attention given to Cherry’s relationship with her genial hubby, Keith (Bashir Salahuddin). Darren Franich,, "Farewell to GLOW, a great show that deserved one final round," 6 Oct. 2020 All of that good work is on hold — hopefully just until Tuesday afternoon when the Board of Supervisors is expected to hear the appeals from attorney Mary Miles and gadfly David Pilpel and handily reject them. Heather Knight,, "Bid to fix partying on S.F.’s Twin Peaks just moves the problem around, angering neighbors," 29 Sep. 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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Last Updated

26 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Gadfly.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 Mar. 2021.

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More Definitions for gadfly



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


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

More from Merriam-Webster on gadfly

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for gadfly

Nglish: Translation of gadfly for Spanish Speakers

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