English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What's a word that means "a single thing or a subset of things that could be used to represent greater overall trends"?

I work for a bookseller. The other day I was discussing a subset of several books that have consistently been bestsellers for the past few months. These books could be used to represent sales trends on a larger scale - something like "blue chip" books. In the conversation I referred to them as "bellwether books", but later on I doubted this was the correct usage of the word. "Bellwether" is defined as "an indicator or predictor of something". Is there a more appropriate word?

share|improve this question
Somehow I feel reminded of swallows. And snowdrops or May bells (I'm always getting them confused)... – RegDwigнt Feb 25 '11 at 16:46
For negative trends, there's also "canary in the coal mine", an early warning of things being bad. – ShreevatsaR Feb 25 '11 at 17:38
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Bellwether seems like an excellent usage for the situation you describe, because when you're talking about trends (at least, other than retrospectively) you're somewhat inherently talking about prediction. If prediction weren't relevant to the situation I might use exemplar or typifier, or perhaps something like quintessential example if I were wont to wax verbose.

Those are all for a single item; for a subset of items, representative sample comes thundering out of the land of statistics to dominate the lexical landscape.

share|improve this answer
Good point. I should have specified that I was talking about them retrospectively. That is to say, if those books weren't selling well during a given period it stands to reason that sales overall were weak during the same period. – michaelmichael Feb 25 '11 at 16:41
@michaelmichael: Bellwether can still be a good term when speaking retrospectively, too; you can look back and see that those books' sales would have been a good predictor of the overall market if you'd been looking at them that way. I think you picked the right word on the spot, honestly. :) – chaos Feb 25 '11 at 16:59
+1 Bellwether is great. Also, marker is often used in news reports when using, for instance, a single business category to predict general economic trends. – oosterwal Feb 26 '11 at 6:30

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.