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  1. a wether or other male sheep that leads the flock, usually bearing a bell.
  2. a person or thing that assumes the leadership or forefront, as of a profession or industry: Paris is a bellwether of the fashion industry.
  3. a person or thing that shows the existence or direction of a trend; index.
  4. a person who leads a mob, mutiny, conspiracy, or the like; ringleader.
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Origin of bellwether

late Middle English word dating back to 1400–50; see origin at bell1, wether

Synonyms for bellwether

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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for bellwether

forerunner, guide, lead, sheep, doyen

Examples from the Web for bellwether

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Historical Examples of bellwether

British Dictionary definitions for bellwether


  1. a sheep that leads the herd, often bearing a bell
  2. a leader, esp one followed unquestioningly
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Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for bellwether


mid-14c. (late 13c. in Anglo-Latin; late 12c. as a surname), from bell (n.) + wether; the lead sheep (on whose neck a bell was hung) of a domesticated flock. Figurative sense of "chief, leader" is from mid-14c.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper