Friday, October 14, 2016

The beginnings, definition and political usage of the word, "bellwether."

I was up late writing when my brain stopped working before the rest of me and I paused at the word, “whether,” momentarily stumped as to whether it contained one or two of the letter “h.” Brain quickly restarted and I typed both letters, brain even earning extra credit for then saying, “Wether without a second “h” is a castrated ram.”

Which brings us to today’s word, bellwether, which means trendsetter, or an indicator of things to come - a portentous individual or event. It derives from an old English usage that described the lead sheep of a herd, usually a castrated ram with a bell around its neck.

In political pundit-speak, “bellwether” is often used to describe a smaller region that in microcosm reflects the sentiments of a larger electorate. Comparing statewide results with the national average typically identifies a bellwether state, the leader of which across the last American century is Ohio, with scarcely a two percent variance on average relative to how the nation goes.


That leading political indicators can be described by a term derived from sheep and impotence ought not be a surprise I suppose, and it isn’t. It is simply another of the endless delights to be found in the English language.