[ gad-flahy ]
/ ˈgædˌflaɪ /

noun, plural gad·flies.

any of various flies, as a stable fly or warble fly, that bite or annoy domestic animals.
a person who persistently annoys or provokes others with criticism, schemes, ideas, demands, requests, etc.



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Origin of gadfly

First recorded in 1585–95; gad2 + fly2 Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020


What does gadfly mean?

A gadfly is a person who’s always hanging around and annoying people with criticism, demands, and questions. Basically, the kind of person you want to shoo away like a biting insect. Speaking of which …

The literal meaning of gadfly refers to any of several types of flies (such as stable flies or warble flies) that are known for pestering livestock by biting them and sucking their blood.

Example: Don’t mind him—he’s just a gadfly who comes to every council meeting to request that the town pay to put a trampoline park in his backyard.

Where does gadfly come from?

The first records of gadfly come from the late 1500s, in reference to the biting fly. The gad part comes from a name for a stick used to poke or prod cattle (also known as a goad or cattle prod). Around the 1600s, gadfly started to be used in figurative ways, including to mean “a social butterfly.”

Today, the most common use of gadfly is in reference to an annoying person who pesters people with frivolous requests or tries to rope them into their schemes. It’s a good metaphor: literal gadflies are notorious for biting and annoying cattle and other barnyard animals. They’re mostly harmless, but they’re relentless—they keep biting and biting because there’s not much the animals can do to shoo them away.

The same goes for figurative gadflies. They’re the kind of people who relentlessly pepper you with questions, demands, even insults. Local government meetings are known for drawing gadflies—the people who are always there issuing criticisms and making unreasonable requests, often with the intention of provoking government officials. (Sometimes, though, the word may be self-applied or applied to people trying to hold officials accountable.) A lot of TV sitcoms have a gadfly character—the one who’s always hanging around and annoying people.

Did you know ... ?

What are some synonyms for gadfly?

What are some words that share a root or word element with gadfly

What are some words that often get used in discussing gadfly?

How is gadfly used in real life?

Gadfly is most commonly used in its figurative sense, and it’s almost always used negatively.



Try using gadfly!

Which of the following terms best describes someone who’s considered a gadfly?

A. helpful
B. annoying
C. considerate
D. low maintenance

Example sentences from the Web for gadfly

British Dictionary definitions for gadfly

/ (ˈɡædˌflaɪ) /

noun plural -flies

any of various large dipterous flies, esp the horsefly, that annoy livestock by sucking their blood
a constantly irritating or harassing person

Word Origin for gadfly

C16: from gad ² (sting) + fly ²
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