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black sheep

a sheep with black fleece.
a person who causes shame or embarrassment because of deviation from the accepted standards of his or her group.
Origin of black sheep
First recorded in 1785-95 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for black sheep
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Bill Dozier was with him, Bill who was the black sheep in the fine old Dozier family.

    Way of the Lawless Max Brand
  • As little notion had his father that his son Cornelius was a black sheep.

    Weighed and Wanting George MacDonald
  • We are content to say that there are black sheep in every flock and so pass on.

    Morals in Trade and Commerce Frank B. Anderson
  • Well, good-bye, dear, and don't worry too much about your black sheep.

    People of Position Stanley Portal Hyatt
  • Rosa was her especial torment; the black sheep of the brood.

  • I've be'n somethin' of a black sheep—but the black's wearin' off in spots.

    Prairie Flowers

    James B. Hendryx
  • You know as well as I do that she has always looked upon me as a black sheep.

    Tom Gerrard Louis Becke
  • He is one of the Walthams of Virginia, a black sheep, true, but a Waltham.

British Dictionary definitions for black sheep

black sheep

a person who is regarded as a disgrace or failure by his family or peer group
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for black sheep

by 1822 in figurative sense of "member of some group guilty of offensive conduct and unlike the other members," supposedly because a real black sheep had wool that could not be dyed and was thus worth less. But one black sheep in a flock was considered good luck by shepherds in Sussex, Somerset, Kent, Derbyshire. Baa Baa Black Sheep nursery rhyme's first known publication is in "Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book" (c.1744).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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black sheep in Culture

black sheep definition

A person who is considered a disgrace to a particular group, usually a family: “Uncle Jack, who was imprisoned for forgery, is the black sheep of the family.”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Idioms and Phrases with black sheep

black sheep

The least reputable member of a group; a disgrace. For example, Uncle Fritz was the black sheep of the family; we always thought he emigrated to Argentina to avoid jail. This metaphor is based on the idea that black sheep were less valuable than white ones because it was more difficult to dye their wool different colors. Also, in the 16th century, their color was considered the devil's mark. By the 18th century the term was widely used as it is today, for the odd member of a group.
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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