Words that surprise

I love etymology – the study of the origin of words. Today’s word from Merriam-Webster is “bellwether.”  I have to admit I was surprised at the spelling. I never gave much thought to a word I know and hear, but rarely have seen written. I assumed it was “bellweather.”  Of course growing up I also thought the second month of the year was “Febuary” – think about it. Few people distinctly pronounce the “r” in February.

Before reading on, do you have any guesses as to the origin of the word? I am generally, “OK” if it is a Latin derivation, but Old English always surprises…Nonetheless – the origin of “bellwether”:  “We usually think of sheep more as followers than leaders, but in a flock one sheep must lead the way. Long ago, it was common practice for shepherds to hang a bell around the neck of one sheep in their flock, thereby designating it the lead sheep. This animal was called the bellwether, a word formed by a combination of the Middle English words belle (meaning “bell”) and wether (a noun that refers to a male sheep that has been castrated). It eventually followed that bellwether would come to refer to someone who takes initiative or who actively establishes a trend that is taken up by others. This usage first appeared in English in the 13th century.” (Merriam-Webster Word of Day for June 10, 2015)

Who knew?  Well… based on search for images to accompanying this post, I am perhaps the last soul on the face of the earth to know!

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