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US election word of the week: bellwether

 © PhotoDiscIn this series we are looking at some of the language and terminology associated with the US electoral process in the run-up to the Presidential election in late 2016. This week’s word is bellwether.

Generally speaking a bellwether is “something that is considered to be a sign of what is likely to happen“,  as Macmillan Dictionary puts it. In US electoral terms, though, a bellwether state is one that generally votes for the eventual winner in the presidential election. While Missouri is the original bellwether state, Michigan – the first of the major industrial states to vote – is also regarded as a bellwether, along with other sizeable industrial states such as Ohio and Iowa.



Bellwether comes from Middle English and its original meaning refers to the sheep that leads a flock with a bell round its neck; a wether is a castrated ram. So far in this election cycle American voters have shown themselves to be anything but sheeplike, while those who predicted the swift exit from the race of Donald Trump must be feeling a little sheepish.

Look out for the next post in this series. You can find past posts on the language of American politics here and here, or search for other posts in this series using the tag US politics.

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Liz Potter

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