any of various small, mouselike rodents of the genera Lemmus, Myopus, and Dicrostonyx, of far northern regions, as L. lemmus, of Norway, Sweden, etc., noted for periodic mass migrations that sometimes result in mass drownings.

1600–10; < Norwegian; cognate with Icelandic lǣmingi lemming, lǣmingr loon; akin to Gothic laian to revile, Icelandic to blame

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World English Dictionary
lemming (ˈlɛmɪŋ)
1.  any of various volelike rodents of the genus Lemmus and related genera, of northern and arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and North America: family Cricetidae. The Scandinavian variety, Lemmus lemmus, migrates periodically when its population reaches a peak
2.  a member of any large group following an unthinking course towards mass destruction
[C17: from Norwegian; related to Latin latrāre to bark]

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Word Origin & History

"small arctic rodent," 1607, from Norw. lemming, from O.N. lomundr "lemming." Perhaps from Lapp luomek. Fig. sense (in reference to their mass migrations that sometimes end in plunges into the sea) is from 1959.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Example sentences
Someone needs to be the first lemming over the cliff.
Finally, on a somewhat related note, be glad you're not a lemming.
The pine barren's frog, northern bog lemming, golden-crowned kinglet and lynx are adapted to living in the acidic habitat.
Bogs shelter many rare animal species, including the spotted turtle and southern bog lemming.
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