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]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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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
With their claws, lemmings dig tunnels under the wind-packed snow.
They tallied mammals such as lemmings and muskoxen, and birds such as plovers
  and owls.
Show me that you are not the lemmings that you give every appearance of being.
The evidence is becoming overwhelming that humans descended from lemmings.
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