Down here in Arkansas, we don’t have much political conflict these days. We’re all pretty much cut from the same cloth–at least in the rural areas. We might have nine candidates for mayor, but they hardly disagree on philosophy at all. So at election time, we have to look to other states for entertainment. It was lots of fun this year to follow the silliness in Florida, Georgia and Missouri.
Watching election returns on TV gets old quick, especially listening to the pundits pontificate, but it was kind of fun to see so many of them using the term bellwether as the early returns came in. They used bellwether to mean an early result which indicates a trend for the future.
I wonder if any of them knows what the term means on the farm.
Growing up on a farm, you learn how and why to castrate males at an early stage. It makes them more docile and have better tasting meat. That’s what a wether is: a male who has been castrated
The term “wether” is a neglected Old English word referring to a castrated male sheep. Adding the prefix “bell” to make “bellwether” denotes a specific role this neutered sheep played for both shepherds and his fellow sheep.
In order to track flocks of sheep, a bell was attached to the wether – giving rise to the term bellwether. The reason a bell was put on the wether, rather than other sheep, was because of his status as the flock eunuch. Bellwethers were docile and easily controlled. Because of the ease with which they could be controlled, they were used to lead the flock, and the sound of the bell around their necks kept the sheep’s owners apprised of their location.
Because of their emasculation, bellwethers were commonly used to lead their fellow sheep to slaughter. However, the bellwether never was killed: His skills, such as they were, proved too valuable to lose. Thus, early sheep slaughterhouses developed a “bellwether gate,” which was used to separate the useful-idiot bellwether sheep from the rest of the flock once he had led them into the slaughterhouse’s intake chute. The saved bellwether was introduced to a new flock and the process was repeated.
Though the pundits don’t know the real meaning of the term, it’s fun to hear them use it. It fits so well in today’s political parlance. The goal of much of our political elite does seem to be the emasculation of the modern American male. After all, how else to insure the politically correct docility needed to lead the electorate to the slaughter?