Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
June 10th, 2015
Episode 222 of 923 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 10, 2015 is: bellwether \BEL-WEH-ther\ noun : one that takes the lead or initiative : leader; also : an indicator of trends Examples: The company has long been viewed as a bellwether for the tech market, so analysts are watching it closely. "Plus, on an increasingly divided council, and in a new district elections system inviting wholesale change, Godden's race could be a bellwether for how incumbents are faring this election year." Heidi Groover, The Stranger, May 13, 2015 Did you know? We usually think of sheep more as followers than leaders, but in a flock one sheep must lead the way. Long ago, it was common practice for shepherds to hang a bell around the neck of one sheep in their flock, thereby designating it the lead sheep. This animal was called the bellwether, a word formed by a combination of the Middle English words belle (meaning "bell") and wether (a noun that refers to a male sheep that has been castrated). It eventually followed that bellwether would come to refer to someone who takes initiative or who actively establishes a trend that is taken up by others. This usage first appeared in English in the 13th century.