Jumat, 22 Oktober 2010

What's the origin of the word "bellwether"?

: bellweather; bellwether

Why: Last night on "Which Way, LA?" they were talking about Jerry Brown and Mae Whitman, and someone said something about some group of people being a bellwether. (I got distracted thinking about bell curves and forgot to note details.)

Answer: It's bell + wether, a castrated male sheep!
A bellwether is a leader or chief. Lately it is used most often to mean indicator or predictor, as in "Vermont is a bellwether state." This usage arises from the idea that a majority of like individuals or groups follow the bellwether. Originally a bellwether was the lead sheep of a flock and wore a bell so the shepherd could more easily find him. Since Anglo-Saxon times, the bellwether was traditionally a castrated male.
Source: Writer's Block

The More You Know: That page lists the histories a whole bunch of other interesting expressions related to music terms. Very quickly:
  • "I'll be there with bells on" - American settlers put bronze bells on their wagons so that when they arrived at their destinations, the ringing would announce the arrival of a party with friendly intentions and not stealy or rapey intentions.
  • "Marches to the beat of a different drummer" - Predating Thoreau and Walden (1850), each European army used a drummer to keep time as they marched and to signal various orders. Anyone marching to a different drummer was in some other army and, therefore, probs had different views.
  • "Hell’s bells" - Shortened from "hell's bells and buckets of blood" (which is way better), it originated on 17th century pirate ships.
  • "Blow your own horn" - Originally "blow your own trumpet," medieval heralds blew trumpets to announce the arrival of the king. Of course, any old Todd Merchant or other Ashley Commoner who wanted to announce his arrival had to blow his own horn like a chump.

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