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

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 The journal is also a candid record of the homosexual underground in mid-century New York City, and the memoirs of a young gadfly’s encounters with such figures as Marcel Duchamp, Alice B. Toklas, and Gore Vidal. Benjamin Anastas, The New Yorker, 1 Nov. 2021 The political gadfly’s latest project, the Forward Party, is designed to leverage buzzwords in the service of cementing his place in the Thought Leader Extended Universe. Natalie Shure, The New Republic, 13 Oct. 2021 Is the Senate’s crucial swing voter a Machiavellian political genius out to save the Democratic Party from itself, or just a media gadfly enjoying his moment in the sun? Kate Aronoff, The New Republic, 21 Sep. 2021 Over the years, Philip became a national gadfly and occasional source of embarrassment. New York Times, 9 Apr. 2021 Sabatino was a cantankerous gadfly and restaurateur who cast himself as an anti-corruption crusader. Los Angeles Times, 27 June 2021 Released as part of a gadfly presidential campaign in 2008 after years in the political wilderness, one ad shows Gravel staring expressionless into the camera for over a minute, before tossing a rock into a pond and walking off into the distance. Stephen Collinson, CNN, 27 June 2021 Silver Rock is no gadfly to the SPAC market, which was mostly a backwater until early 2020. Antoine Gara, Forbes, 26 May 2021 That brand of gleeful, accessible campaigning was the trademark of Yang's unexpectedly strong presidential campaign, transforming him from a no-name gadfly to a regular on the debate stage. Dan Merica, CNN, 13 Apr. 2021

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

14 Dec 2021

Cite this Entry

“Gadfly.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Jan. 2022.

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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

Nglish: Translation of gadfly for Spanish Speakers


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