What would be an idiom or word or name for someone that is an initial tester (like a beta tester).

I am writing a speech for my younger brother's engagement and want to say how I have always been the first to try everything in my family--schooling, learning to drive, college applications, etc.--because I was the oldest son. My parents basically used me as a trial run to test the waters each step of the way in their parenting. They tweaked and refined the process with each of my two brothers.

Now for his wedding, he's being sent out to scout for the proverbial mines for the first time.

So I'm looking for a better term than beta tester to describe what I have been my entire life. I was kind of like a "lab rat", but that sounds horrible. Here's the line:

"Throughout our life, being the oldest, I was sent out as the front line to test the waters."

I really hate that line. I hope having a better term for "beta tester" would make that line make more sense and sound better.

  • 5
    That's usually called being the guinea pig
    – Jim
    Commented May 16, 2015 at 18:27
  • 1
    Your mines comparison reminds me of how the Red Army cleared minefields in the war: marching the "punishment battalions" across them......
    – David Pugh
    Commented May 16, 2015 at 18:54
  • 2
    Alpha tester is the technical term; if it doesn't kill the Alpha tester, it goes into Beta test. Commented May 16, 2015 at 19:08
  • 1
    Another useful idiom in a similar vein is "the canary in the coal mine." Commented May 16, 2015 at 19:51
  • Just be careful that it doesn't sound like you've tried out his wife-to-be for him, unless of course ... ;)
    – Frank
    Commented May 17, 2015 at 8:44

10 Answers 10


You could say you were a pioneer or trailblazer in your family.

"Being the eldest, I was a pioneer in many ventures. For example, my experience in schooling was tweaked to give my brothers a better schooling experience. My brothers avoided my mistakes while learning to drive. For my brothers, choosing colleges and filling application forms were a breeze, after my pioneering attempts."

In the previous sentence, change pioneer to trailblazer and see which you like.

If you prefer, you could add "accidental pioneer" or "accidental trailblazer", because you were not given a choice, and it was an accident of fate that you were the eldest.

  • 2
    Don't forget you can split trailblazer back into two words when it suits the prose. You weren't a lab rate, you blazed a trail.
    – Peter Wone
    Commented May 17, 2015 at 0:56
  • 2
    Peter +1 , Since @Mike does not like phrases with negative connotations like lab rat & guinea pig, he might be looking for phrases with positive connotations. Both pioneer & trailblazer are phrases with positive connotations.
    – Prem
    Commented May 17, 2015 at 4:06
  • 1
    Both of these images offer delightful opportunities for brothers to celebrate their relationship in all of its potential, adversity and joy!
    – ScotM
    Commented May 17, 2015 at 12:58

The term guinea pig according to etymonline.com

In the extended sense of "one subjected to an experiment" it is first recorded 1920, because they were commonly used in medical experiments (by 1865).

Also from Wiktionary:

De-classified documents of the National Archives revealed that during the 1930s and 1940s, the British Army used hundreds of Irish and native British Indian Army soldiers as "guinea pigs" in their experiments to determine if mustard gas inflicted greater damage on Indian skin compared to British skin. It is unclear whether the trial subjects, some of whom were hospitalised by their injuries, were all volunteers.[5]

In your speech you might use it as:

Throughout our life, being the oldest, I was always the guinea pig whether it was for going to elementary school, learning to drive, or filling out college applications.

  • 5
    I thought of this while I was reading the question, but it seems to have some of the same nasty connotations as "lab rat". Commented May 16, 2015 at 23:03
  • Actually that’s exactly what OP claims he was: “a trial run to test the waters at each step of the parenting process
    – Jim
    Commented May 17, 2015 at 2:06

Vanguard might work with positive connotations of looking out for your little brother while welcoming him to engage the fray of marriage first:


1.0 A group of people leading the way in new developments or ideas:
the experimental spirit of the modernist vanguard

1.1 A position at the forefront of new developments or ideas:
the prototype was in the vanguard of technical development

1.2 The foremost part of an advancing army or naval force.


Throughout our life together, being the oldest, I was usually the vanguard, but this time, you will be the vanguard!


on the cutting edge (of something)

also at the cutting edge (of something)

in front of others with what is new

Some people on the cutting edge of fashion have one strip of hair dyed one color and the rest another color.

University Hospital is at the cutting edge of medical technology.

Usage notes: also used in the form on the edge:

This band used to be on the edge, but it's much less exciting these days.

Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2003. Reproduced with permission, emphasis mine

Throughout our life together, being the oldest, I was usually on the cutting edge, but this time, you will be on the cutting edge!


"guinea pig", as posted by Jim, is perhaps the best fit. But I can also suggest "explorer"

  • "Throughout our lives, being the oldest, I was always the explorer. The first one to probe unknown territories: going to school, dating, getting into University, working to support myself and then getting married.

You are the trial-and-error child/kid.

No matter how hard parents try, no matter the amount of books one read, and googles searches one performs, no matter the hours of discussion, it seems to me the first child is always somewhat a trial and error child.


It is a part of life, a fact that is sometimes troubling to a parent, that the first child is the “trial and error” child.


Like most first-borns, my son was my trial and error kid. I tried what I saw working for others and assumed it would work for us too.



In the technical fields they are humorously called crash test dummies.


It seems to me that "test pilot" would be pretty apt.


The front edge of a plane's wing is called the leading edge. The leading edge obviously gets rain, hail, and birds instead of the trailing edge. The plane could neither be controlled nor provide lift without the leading edge.

Leading edge from B737_Flight_Controls

Throughout most of my life, I have been the leading edge of the family airplane wing, as it were. I can't say how pleased I am to turn over this privilege and responsibility to my younger brother!


In many cases, 'early adopter' might be appropriate.

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