Friday, August 19, 2011

bellwether



bellwether [ˈbɛlˌwɛðər] n.

1.) The leading sheep of a flock, on whose neck a bell is hung.
2.) fig. A chief or leader. (Mostly contemptuous.)
3.) fig. A clamorous person, one ready to give mouth. (Sometimes opprobrious.) (O.E.D. 2nd Ed.)

Etymology: Middle English bellewether, from belle, bell + wether, a castrated ram.

"'Tell me dear child
who is that officer? The son of Atreus
stands a head taller, but this man appears
to have a deeper chest and broader shoulders.
His gear lies on the ground, but still he goes
like a bellwether up and down the ranks.
A ram I'd call him, burly, thick with fleece,
keeping a flock of silvery sheep in line.'

And Helen shaped by heaven answered him:

'That is Laertes' son, the great tactician,
Odysseus'" (The Iliad by Homer, Robert Fitzgerald (trans.), 1974).

(Ulysse de retour dans son palais, après avoir tué les amants de Pénélope, Nicolas-André Monsiau, 1791)

28 comments:

cheshire said...

I wonder if being the leader, or bellwether, of a flock of sheep is as bad as being one of the normal sheep in the flock.

Necroticism said...

I'm familiar with the meaning, but no with the word :O

meandmythinkingcap said...

First time hearing this word. Interesting.
Actually learnt two words. opprobrious-didnt know that one either. Thanks dude.
I love the greek route you had taken to give greek root words. Hail Caesar!(Caesar is roman?!)

D4 said...

This sounds like a word that just goes well with lily-livered.

GMSoccerPicks said...

I knew this one, i feel so smart hahaha naah just kidding.
With all due respect, may i suggest you adding a light box script to the blog? It would make the photo viewing easier for your readers and its like 3 lines tops.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Isn't there a political usage of this term as well, as in "a bellwether riding" meaning a swing riding whose election results usually foretell who will form the government? At least here in Canada, the term is used in that sense.

Katie said...

Ah, this seems familiar to me. But that's absurd!

JayJay said...

We had a goat and a cow that wore a bell. Unfortunately, neither were whethers so it doesn't really count.

Nice word though.

Mai Yang said...

Our bellwether is an idiot =)
-right or wrong? hehe

Inverse said...

Kinda funny that there's a word for a sheep with a bell around its neck.

DEZMOND said...

ah, such a negative meaning for such a lovely sounding word!

Shutterbug said...

what does it mean "one ready to give mouth?"

Kid Shuffle said...

@cheshire

being the bellwether in the flock would have to be worse... you'd have to get castrated.

Bibi said...

re your comment: try "hirsute house" next. Maybe it'll be less disturbing.

Bibi said...

re again: okay don't try hirsute either. it's even worse o.O

Bibi said...

Yep, inbetween all the other uhm... less child-approved... images I saw a house that looked like Chewbacca.


Thanks for spoiling my perfectly innocent mind. Really. Thank you.

Bibi said...

:o Pft, I'm not the one to blame and you know it :p I always have safe search on, it's because you made me curious so I put it off. Biggest mistake of my life. Remind me to NEVER do that again.

Bibi said...

Btw, excuse my crappy English. Switch off :p Got carried away and forgot to think before I wrote. I still think you're the one to blame, nah.

Bibi said...

You're the one who's to blame? Oh f____
Feel free to not publish this. I'm spamming your inbox with faulty English, it'll take down your blog *deeply ashamed of herself*

jos xx said...

re your comment: what are you talking about?

jos xx

Jenny Woolf said...

Interesting. I'd always been a bit hazy about what a bellwether was. There seem to have been so many old words for different kinds of sheep, goats and cows, I'm always coming across them. I wonder if it has anything to do with "withers" on a horse- I suppose not?

Bibi said...

Don't know if my previous comment went through. What I was trying to say is that "hirsute" in Dutch is "hirsuut" so not much difference.



And also: you're evil. That's what the E stands for. Evil. Y U post my crappy English me not know! :p
Enjoy your evening. Hope everything went well at your professor's.

Meri said...

haha- I can't wait to call a certain person this this weekend... I can't stand him but he'll never know what this means, despite how important he seems to think he is. Ha!

Henry said...

One ready to give mouth eh? hahaha The third definition doesn't follow from the first two.

Admin said...

I'm going to start using this word. This blog is wonderful.

jos xx said...

re your comment: loool did you google the words of my handwriting? haha, that was some criticism from a very sad poem written by a priest. and no, not jews. here, there are alot of refugees (coming from libya and morocco) - they are black and scary. i hate them.

i can relate myself to this word you posted. i feel like a leader most of the time...

jos xx

nowaysj said...

The sheep is news to me. But I'm always the last to know.

Michael Westside said...

A sheep can be a leader?

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