AskDefine | Define bellwether

Dictionary Definition



1 someone who assumes leadership of a movement or activity
2 sheep that leads the herd often wearing a bell

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


From bell + wether, originally a sheep with a bell around its neck, that led a flock.


  • /ˈbɛlwɛðə/ italbrac RP
  • /ˈbɛlwɛðɚ/ italbrac US


  1. The leading sheep of a flock, having a bell hung round its neck.
  2. Anything that indicates future trends.
  3. A stock or bond that is widely believed to be an indicator of the overall market's condition.


  • 1861 — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., Elsie Venner, ch XXXI
    Several old ladies forthwith proclaimed their intention of following him; but, as one or two of them were deaf, and another had been threatened with an attack of that mild, but obstinate complaint, dementia senilis, many thought it was not so much the force of his arguments as a kind of tendency to jump as the bellwether jumps, well known in flocks not included in the Christian fold.



the leading sheep of a flock, having a bell hung round its neck
  • German: Leithammel
anything that indicates future trends
a stock or bond that is widely believed to be an indicator of the overall market's condition
  • German: führender Wert

See also

Extensive Definition

A bellwether is any entity in a given arena that serves to create or influence trends or to presage future happenings.
The term is derived from the Middle English bellewether and refers to the practice of placing a bell around the neck of a castrated ram (a wether) in order that this animal might lead its flock of sheep.
In sociology, the term is applied in the active sense to a person or group of people who tend to create, influence or set trends.
In politics, the term is more often applied in the passive sense to describe a geographic region where political tendencies match in microcosm those of a wider area, such that the result of an election in the former region might predict the eventual result in the latter. In a Westminster-style election, for example, a constituency, the control of which tends frequently to change, can mirror in its popular vote the result on a national scale.
  • In the United Kingdom, Basildon has reflected the overall result in every General Election since its creation in 1974. In addition, Bristol North West is also considered a bellwether: voters usually vote for the winning national party.
  • In Australian federal elections, the electoral divisions of Eden-Monaro in New South Wales and Leichhardt in Queensland have elected Members of Parliament from the party which won government at every federal election since 1972. The electoral division of Macarthur in New South Wales was a bellwether from the 1949 election until 2004. However, at the 2007 election Macarthur stayed as a Liberal seat despite a change of government, with sitting MP Pat Farmer narrowly surviving a 11% swing against him. The state of New South Wales could also be considered a bellwether, as the party which wins government has won the majority of House of Representatives seats in that state at every election since 1963. Unlike many bellwethers, these are cited by analysts solely for their record and are not usually attributed demographic factors that reflect the median of Australia.
  • In Canada, Sarnia-Lambton has voted for the winning party in every single federal election since it was created in 1968.
In the stock market, a bellwether (barometer stock in the UK) is the stock of a company that is regarded as a leader in its given industry. The performance of the stock is said to reflect the performance of the industry in general. These stocks are used as barometers for the rest of the market. General Motors is an example of a bellwether stock. As the major auto maker in the US, it sets the tone for the rest of the industry. General Motors also has contracts with companies in other industries so its performance is reflected in other sectors of the market.
Trends in expenditure in the UK advertising and marketing industry are monitored in the quarterly Bellwether Report, published by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA).
bellwether in German: Leithammel

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Mahdi, ancestor, announcer, antecedent, avant-garde, bell cow, bell mare, born leader, buccinator, bushwhacker, charismatic leader, choirmaster, choragus, conductor, coryphaeus, doyen, duce, ewe, ewe lamb, explorer, file leader, forebear, foregoer, forerunner, front runner, frontiersman, fugleman, groundbreaker, guide, harbinger, herald, innovator, inspired leader, jumbuck, lamb, lambkin, lead, lead runner, leader, leader of men, messenger, messiah, mutton, pacemaker, pacesetter, pathfinder, pilot, pioneer, point, precedent, precentor, precursor, predecessor, ram, ringleader, scout, sheep, standard-bearer, stormy petrel, symphonic conductor, teg, torchbearer, trailblazer, trailbreaker, tup, vanguard, vaunt-courier, voortrekker, wether, yeanling
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