Social Question

Berserker's avatar

What's a black sheep?

Asked by Berserker (33514points) November 20th, 2010

This seems thrown around a lot to me, usually as a claim by someone who wants to be different. Seems common enough to me, anyway. I’m a rebel, an extremist, a black sheep…I hear people say this often about themselves.
But what is a black sheep, exactly? I don’t think I really know. All I get from people are that they deny or dismiss a thing, concept, fashion, whatever. Not listening to MTV doesn’t make you a black sheep, does it? I’m not a black sheep cuz I’m a Goth right? (One Goth among a million Goths, and so forth.) So what is one? How is one a black sheep, how does one go against the current, how does one do everything differently than everyone else to be a black sheep? Social norms? Does that have anything to do with it? Couldn’t I be a black sheep if I lived on my own in some shack in a forest?
Or is it a mindset that’s uncommon? Is it good or bad? Are you born a black sheep, is it something in the brain, or does it come as a form of revelation from experience? What social factors might be related to being a black sheep? What about psychological? Are you a black sheep? Am I? What is a black sheep? That is, beyond the general definition.

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17 Answers

MissA's avatar

My idea of a “black sheep” is being completely different from those in your family or friends. And, unaccepted.

faye's avatar

I’ve always heard ‘black sheep of the family’ so I’ve thought it’s someone who doesn’t do what the rest of the family does. What if everyone in the family goes different ways? Chaos!

Berserker's avatar

@MissA So a black sheep can be many different things, depending on what your family is like and how you don’t fit with what they are, or why they don’t accept you?

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

A black sheep is one who taints the good reputation of any group or organization they are involved with.

MissA's avatar


That’s my interpretation. However, sometimes one might feel as if they are…but, really aren’t. “Black sheep” are defined differently by many different people.

BarnacleBill's avatar

The “black sheep of the family” is generally the person that doesn’t follow the manners and mores of the family, and generally ends up in trouble of some sort due to their own decisions. If you were to look it on a rating scale of 10 to 1, with “Make your mama proud” being a 10 and “Shunned” being a 1, “Black Sheep” would be about a 4 or 3, depending on the family.

It could be anything from being the one who was married 5 times, to being Goth in a family of blonde cheerleaders, to being the one who, in a family of PhDs, MDs and JDs, didn’t finish community college. Or it could mean that you’re the one with the admitted drinking/drug problem, or are gay in a Bible-Believer Southern Baptist family.

It’s all subjective. But, if you’re the black sheep, I want to sit next to you at the next family funeral.

tigress3681's avatar

When you think of sheep, what color are they? Not black. Black is an aberration, not necessarily a bad apple, just different.

laureth's avatar

Some help to be found here, here and here.

As a handspinner, too, I can tell you that fleeces from white sheep are able to be sold for more money, because they are more versatile and can be dyed any color you like. However, black wool is really only ever going to be black, not a lot of value there, so it went for cheaper. Similarly, a black sheep was not seen as being as valuable as a white sheep, besides standing out.

snowberry's avatar

The term originated when a newborn black lamb was rejected by its mother. It was a common enough occurrence that it came to mean a person rejected by family or society.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

If I’m not mistaken, that newborn black sheep was also considered a bad omen.

Berserker's avatar

I see. A lot of answers here have to do with family or outcasts. I think it’s a little different in French though, because over here it seems to be someone who doesn’t follow the norm. Thanks for the info, peeps. :) I’ll go to bed less retarded this night. XD

ucme's avatar

Is Baaaa-rack Obaaaa-ma one? I dunno see :¬)

Mikewlf337's avatar

Usually it’s someone who deviates so far from the values of their family that they are unaccepted. Thare are outcasted in a way because they are usually not considered relevant in family discussions and the other members of that family tend to ignore and reject them. Some are even kicked out of the family despite being blood related. Sometimes this is done for good reasons. Sometimes this is done for stupid reasons. Usually there are not born a black sheep. They become that way from their actions, politcal beliefs, religious beliefs (or lack of), views, etc. Some want to be the black sheep. Maybe they think it’s rebellious but then again I can’t speak for everyone. Some are not happy with their family. Their family may be garbage or vice versa. There are a million ways to be a black sheep.

Kardamom's avatar

At least for me it’s kind of like standing out in the crowd (usually your family) and not going with the flow. I’ve kind of been marked as the black sheep in my family because I am a vegetarian. Luckily for me, although I’m considered an oddity, I am in no way considered un-acceptable. But the fact that I am a vegetarian always seems to be brought up by someone at our family gatherings, although I try to be very low key about it, I don’t bring it up. It can be very embarrassing because I am rather shy. I try to answer quickly and non-confrontationally about my decision to become a vegetarian and then try to change the subject. I don’t like to be the center of attention. I don’t expect anyone else to be a vegetarian, it’s just my own decision for me. But it does make me get pegged as a blacksheep.

tigress3681's avatar

@Symbeline what you said is the same thing.

DerangedSpaceMonkey's avatar

Basically someone who is not accepted by the majority of whatever community or family he/she is in. For example Marilyn Manson is considered a black sheep by most, (I happen to be a fan), but in the presence of Ozzie Ozbourne, Rob Zombie, and Alice Cooper, I would assume he is accepted. Just like Justin Beiber (whom I happen to not be a fan of) who is (unfortunately) widely accepted, would be a black sheep in front of Ozzie, Rob, Alice and Marilyn.

So no one can be a black sheep to everyone and everything it’s just based upon the source. Except for dear old Richard Simmons. Does he really fit in with anyone? LOL

mattbrowne's avatar

One denying conformity.

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