Trend Watch

Looking for 'Bellwethers'

“An indicator of trends”

Bellwether (“an indicator of trends”) spiked in lookups on the evening of November 8th, 2016, as the people following the U.S. presidential election anxiously looked for any sign that might indicate which way the race was headed.

Nevada’s bellwether status is on the line Tuesday as voters in the key Western swing state chose between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.
—, 8 Nov. 2016

As Money’s Ian Salisbury pointed out recently, the Mexican peso has become a bellwether for Donald Trump’s candidacy because the GOP nominee has made U.S. relations with Mexico such a front-burner issue.
—, 8 Nov. 2016

There are, however, some tight House races that will serve as a bellwether for which party is having the better night overall, and whether Republicans in left-leaning districts have been able to outperform their party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

Bellwether has been in use in English for over 700 years, although the sense in which it is currently found is typically a highly figurative one. The original sense of the word was to describe a sheep or wether (a castrated male sheep), who wore a bell and led the flock. From this original sense the word took on the meaning of “one that takes the lead or initiative,” and from there assumed its present-day sense designating “an indicator of trends.”

They Contra-Legem, th' Country quack about, 
And deal their dirty-skill, at small rate out, 
To Gull the Sillyer sort; this Artizan, 
Proclaims himself a sixed conjuring man; 
And Pride in him so monstrously prevails, 
To be the States Belwether he Assails.
—Anon., Lilly Lash’t With his Own Rod, 1660

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