a wether or other male sheep that leads the flock, usually bearing a bell.
a person or thing that assumes the leadership or forefront, as of a profession or industry: Paris is a bellwether of the fashion industry.
a person or thing that shows the existence or direction of a trend; index.
a person who leads a mob, mutiny, conspiracy, or the like; ringleader.

1400–50; late Middle English; see bell1, wether

2. leader, pacesetter, frontrunner, trailblazer. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
bellwether (ˈbɛlˌwɛðə)
1.  a sheep that leads the herd, often bearing a bell
2.  a leader, esp one followed unquestioningly

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
Cite This Source's 21st Century Lexicon
Main Entry:  bellwether1
Part of Speech:  n
Definition:  an indication of a trend
Etymology:  Middle English belle 'bell' + wether 'castrated male sheep'
Main Entry:  bellwether2
Part of Speech:  n
Definition:  one who takes initiative or leadership
Etymology:  Middle English belle 'bell' + wether 'castrated male sheep'
Main Entry:  bellwether3
Part of Speech:  n
Definition:  a belled male sheep
Etymology:  Middle English belle 'bell' + wether 'castrated male sheep''s 21st Century Lexicon
Copyright © 2003-2014, LLC
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Word Origin & History

mid-15c., from bell + wether; the lead sheep (on whose neck a bell was hung) of a domesticated flock; used earlier in the figurative sense of "chief, leader" (early 15c.).
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Example sentences
Turner's victory should not be seen as a bellwether.
Other college leaders are not so enthusiastic about using the labor market as a
  bellwether of college quality.
Ignoring this data in favour of profit margins makes your comment a bellwether
  of the extinction of mankind.
Experts said the failure was likely due to a poorly run operation and was not
  an industry bellwether.
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