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.

Nearby words

  1. black sea bass,
  2. black section,
  3. black selenium,
  4. black shag,
  5. black shank,
  6. black shirt,
  7. black shirts,
  8. black site,
  9. black skimmer,
  10. black smoker

Origin of black sheep

First recorded in 1785–95 Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for black sheep

  • Clinton jokes that Barbara Bush refers to him as her “black-sheep son.”

    Bush’s Hidden Legacy|Eleanor Clift|May 31, 2012|DAILY BEAST
  • But no matter—— There'd be intellectual conversation for the benefit of black-sheep new chums.

  • Well, perhaps he was ashamed of me, for I was the black-sheep of the flock.

    A Modern Aladdin|Howard Pyle

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

Word Origin and History for black sheep

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

Culture definitions for black sheep

black sheep

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 Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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 Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.