The Meaning of Black Sheep: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of black sheep? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the term black sheep, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the term black sheep mean?

According to Collins English Dictionary, a black sheep is a noun that refers to someone who is a member of some family or group, but who is considered bad or worthless by the people in that family or group. This person might be the least reputable member of a group or an odd member of a group. Think about a black lamb in a flock of white sheep. The lambs stand out for their black wool. In the past, this was a bad thing. Today, it is used as a metaphor for evil.  For example, an atheist in a very devout, religious family might be considered the black sheep of the family. This does not refer to people who simply wear black fleece, but refers to people who perform a deviation from some group of accepted standards of a group or family. This term has a negative connotation, so if you are trying to refer to someone who stands out from a group in a good way, opt for a different term. There are many other different words and phrases that describe people who are exemplary and stand out from the pack in a positive way.

Many different languages also contain words that mean black sheep. Not all languages use the same metaphor as black sheep, but you may notice that many of these follow a similar pattern. Learning translations for different idiomatic words and phrases is very useful if you are going to be traveling or communicating with someone who does not speak English. The below list of translations for the term black sheep is provided by Word Sense.

  •  Finnish: musta lammas‎
  •  French: mouton noir‎ (masc.), brebis galeuse‎ (fem.)
  •  Greek: μαύρο πρόβατο‎ (neut.)
  •  Japanese: 厄介者‎ (やっかいもの, yakkaimono)
  •  Polish: czarna owca‎ (fem.)
  •  Spanish: oveja negra‎ (fem.)
  •  German: schwarzes Schaf‎ (neut.)
  •  Swedish: svart får‎ (neut.)
  •  Roman: cȓnā óvca‎ (fem.), bijȇlā vrȁna‎ (fem.) / bȇlā vrȁna‎ (fem.)
  •  Russian: парши́вая овца́‎ (fem.) (scabby sheep)
  •  Mandarin: 害群之馬‎, 害群之马‎ (hàiqúnzhīmǎ), 敗類‎, 败类‎ (bàilèi)
  •  Icelandic: svartur sauður‎ (masc.)
  •  Portuguese: ovelha negra‎ (fem.)
  •  Malay: kambing hitam‎
  •  Danish: sort får‎ (neut.)
  •  Cyrillic: цр̑на̄ о́вца‎ (fem.), бије̑ла̄ вра̏на‎ / бе̑ла̄ вра̏на‎ (fem.)
  •  Esperanto: idaĉo‎

What is the origin of the term black sheep?

According to Etymonline, the 16th century term black sheep has been used in a figurative sense since 1822. This supposedly comes from one real black sheep that had wool that could not be dyed, and was therefore worth less than white wool or wool of different colors. However, having one black sheep in a flock was in the past considered to be an omen of good luck for a Sussex shepherd, Somerset, Derbyshire and Kent shepherds. The first known publication of the nursery rhyme song Baa Baa Black Sheep was in 1744, in “Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book.”

How can the term black sheep be used in a sentence?

The term black sheep can be used in many different sentences in the Americas and the UK. Using a word or phrase in a sentence is a great way to remember its definition. You can also try making flashcards or creating quizzes for yourself. Try using this word of the day in a sentence today! Below are many examples of black sheep. 

The swearers, whores, and drunkards were all considered to be black sheep of the church, though this felt hypocritical to the sincere convert. She believed that everyone performed sin, and it was not others’ jobs to condemn them. In the Bible, sin occurs from Genesis on. She did not believe it was her right to make judgments about prophane people or anyone else.

Jacob knew his Uncle Fritz from Argentina was the black sheep of the family, but didn’t know why. People always got weird when he was around. 

The lawyers tried to convince the jury that the accused man was the balck sheep of his family, and that is why he committed the crime. They called it the black sheep effect.

What are synonyms for the term balck sheep?

There are many different words and phrases that one can use in place of the term black sheep. These are called synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same definition as another word or phrase. Learning synonyms is a great way to expand your vocabulary and avoid repeating yourself. This list of synonyms for the term balck sheep is provided by Thesaurus.

  •  reprobate
  •  derelict
  •  bum
  •  exile
  •  vagabond
  •  deportee
  •  outcast
  •  persona non grata
  •  embarrassment
  •  leper
  •  refugee
  •  tramp
  •  pariah
  •  untouchable
  •  vagrant
  •  gypsy
  •  reject
  •  wretch
  •  castaway
  •  hobo
  •  displaced person
  •  waif
  •  prodigal
  •  expatriate
  •  undesirable
  •  outsider
  •  fugitive
  •  rascal
  •  ne’er-do-well
  •  bad egg
  •  cur
  •  delinquent

There are also numerous different words that mean the opposite of the term black sheep. These opposite words are called antonyms. Learning antonyms is another great, easy way to expand your vocabulary. This list of antonyms for the term balck sheep is also provided by Thesaurus.

  •  ideal
  •  main
  •  number one
  •  darling
  •  teacher’s pet
  •  beloved
  •  idol
  •  shoo-in
  •  minion
  •  pet
  •  chalk
  •  favorite
  •  preference
  •  front-runner
  •  pick
  •  choice
  •  paramour
  •  fave
  •  dear
  •  love
  •  apple of eye 

Overall, the phrase black sheep is used to describe a deviant or disliked person who is one of many group members. Nobody wants to be the black sheep, as this has negative implications. Try using this phrase of the day in a sentence today in order to remember its definition!


  1. black sheep | Origin and meaning of phrase black sheep | Online Etymology Dictionary 
  2. BLACK SHEEP Synonyms: 6 Synonyms & Antonyms for BLACK SHEEP | Thesaurus 
  3. FAVORITE Synonyms: 56 Synonyms & Antonyms for FAVORITE | Thesaurus  
  4. Black sheep definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary 
  5. black sheep: meaning, translation, synonyms  | Word Sense