sheep

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count sheep

1. To perform any repetitive or monotonous thought exercise as a means of calming the mind to try to fall asleep (such as the traditional sleep aid of counting imaginary sheep). Whenever I go to bed with a racing mind, I make myself count sheep until I drift off to sleep.
2. By extension, to be kept awake at night or experience insomnia. Usually used in the continuous form. After I lost my job, I was up counting sheep all night, trying to figure out how I'd make ends meet.
See also: count, sheep

cast a sheep's eye

To give a sideways glance or a suspicious look. When I tried to feed the baby something new, she cast a sheep's eye at it and then tried to smack it out of my hand. Miss Stevens cast a sheep's eye at me when I complimented her outfit, but I really did think that she looked nice!
See also: cast, eye

white sheep

One who is dutiful and obedient, the opposite of a rebellious "black sheep." Everyone likes me because I'm the white sheep of the family. The same cannot be said for my wild cousin Nathan!
See also: sheep, white

a wolf in sheep's clothing

A person or thing that appears harmless but is actually dangerous or bad. Don't trust Dana—she's a wolf in sheep's clothing who will try to steal your position if given the chance. The politician portrayed himself as moderate, but turned out to be a wolf in sheep's clothing with a radical agenda.
See also: clothing, wolf

the black sheep of the family

One who is unlike other family members, sometimes due to intentional rebelliousness, and often viewed unfavorably by them. Everyone likes me because I'm so quiet and obedient. The same cannot be said for my wild cousin Nathan, who is the black sheep of the family.
See also: black, family, of, sheep

make sheep's eyes at (one)

To give someone an adoring, doting, or amorous look or glance. It's a bit weird, but Janet's boyfriend has been making sheep's eyes at me for the last hour.
See also: eye, make

separate the sheep from the goats

To separate the good from the bad. In this Biblical phrase, sheep represent the good and goats the bad. When you choose the students for your homeroom, don't separate the sheep from the goats and give me all the troublemakers!
See also: goat, separate, sheep

might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb

One might as well commit a worse offense, since the punishment will remain the same. (In the past, theft of a sheep was punishable by death.) I've already blown most of my savings, so what's another $100? Might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb.
See also: hanged, lamb, might, sheep, well

separate the men from the boys

To distinguish or separate the experienced, competent, or strong participants from those who are not. We've had some easy games so far in the season, but this next one is going to separate the men from the boys. This is a business that separates the men from the boys—don't get involved unless you have what it takes.
See also: boy, men, separate

black sheep of the family

Fig. the worst member of the family. Mary is the black sheep of the family. She's always in trouble with the police. He keeps making a nuisance of himself. What do you expect from the black sheep of the family?
See also: black, family, of, sheep

might as well be hung for a sheep as (for) a lamb

Rur. might as well commit a large fault as a small one, since the same punishment will result. I'll take the expensive fishing rod. My wife will be mad at me no matter how much I spend, so I might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb.
See also: hung, lamb, might, sheep, well

separate the men from the boys

 and separate the sheep from the goats
Fig. to separate the competent from those who are less competent. (Not necessarily just about males.) This is the kind of task that separates the men from the boys. Working in a challenging place like this really separates the sheep from the goats.
See also: boy, men, separate

wolf in sheep's clothing

Fig. a dangerous person pretending to be harmless. Carla thought the handsome stranger was gentle and kind, but Susan suspected he was a wolf in sheep's clothing. Mimi: Why shouldn't I go out with David? He's the nicest man I've ever met. Alan: He's a wolf in sheep's clothing, Mimi. Can't you tell?
See also: clothing, wolf

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.
See also: black, sheep

hanged for a sheep as a lamb, might as well be

Might just as well be punished for a big misdeed as a small one. For example, I might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb and have a third piece of cake-I've gone off my diet anyhow . Already a proverb in John Ray's 1678 collection, this expression alludes to the old punishment for stealing sheep, which was hanging no matter what the age or size of the animal.
See also: hanged, might, sheep, well

separate the men from the boys

Distinguish between mature, experienced individuals and novices, as in The picket line will separate the men from the boys in the union. The idiom is used without respect to gender. [c. 1930]
See also: boy, men, separate

separate the sheep from the goats

Distinguish between good and bad individuals, or superior and inferior ones. For example, In a civil war where both sides commit atrocities, you can't separate the sheep from the goats . This term refers to Jesus's prophecy in the New Testament (Matthew 25:32) that the sheep (that is, the compassionate) will sit on God's right hand (and find salvation), and the goats (the hard-hearted) will sit on the left (and be sent to damnation).
See also: goat, separate, sheep

wolf in sheep's clothing

An enemy disguised as a friend, as in Dan was a wolf in sheep's clothing, pretending to help but all the while spying for our competitors . This term comes from the ancient fable about a wolf that dresses up in the skin of a sheep and sneaks up on a flock. This fable has given rise to a rich history of allusions as in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus speaks of false prophets in sheep's clothing, "but inwardly they are ravening wolves" (Matthew 7:15).
See also: clothing, wolf

the black sheep

or

the black sheep of the family

COMMON If you describe someone as the black sheep or the black sheep of the family, you mean that the other people in their family disapprove of them and consider their behaviour to be bad. `I was always the black sheep,' he says. `Everyone else stayed in New Jersey but I was the one to go.' My uncle was the black sheep of the family and we were never encouraged to talk about him. Note: Black sheep are less valuable than white sheep since their wool cannot be dyed. In addition, people used to associate the colour black with evil.
See also: black, sheep

I might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb

or

I might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb

If someone says I might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb or I might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, they mean that as they will suffer or be punished whatever they do, they are choosing to do something really bad. I knew I was going to get into trouble for being late as it was, so I figured I might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb. Note: For a long time in the past in England, the penalty for sheep stealing was death.
See also: hanged, lamb, might, sheep, well

separate the sheep from the goats

or

sort out the sheep from the goats

If you separate the sheep from the goats or sort out the sheep from the goats, you examine a group of things or people and decide which are good and which are bad. It is getting harder and harder to sort out the sheep from the goats among the 4,000 or so titles for children that are published every year. Testing exists to separate the sheep from the goats. Note: The Bible says that on the Day of Judgment, Jesus will divide his sheep from the goats. The sheep represent those who are going to heaven, and the goats represent those who are going to hell. (Matthew 25:32)
See also: goat, separate, sheep

a wolf in sheep's clothing

A wolf in sheep's clothing is someone or something that appears harmless or ordinary but is in fact very dangerous or powerful. The judge said Granger appeared to be a nice young gentleman, but was in fact a wolf in sheep's clothing — a ruthless individual with absolutely no morals. This car has to be the ultimate wolf in sheep's clothing. It looks like an ever-so sensible estate — until you hit the accelerator. Note: Less often, people describe someone as a sheep in wolf's clothing, meaning that a person seems dangerous or powerful, but in fact is harmless or ordinary. She was tall, with a loud voice and could seem a little intimidating but was in fact a sheep in wolf's clothing, loved by all who knew her. Note: In one of Aesop's fables, a wolf wraps itself in a fleece and manages to get into a sheepfold without being noticed. It then attacks the sheep and eats them. This image is also used in the Bible: `Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.' (Matthew 7:15)
See also: clothing, wolf

the black sheep

a person considered to have brought discredit upon a family or other group; a bad character.
See also: black, sheep

separate (or sort out) the men from the boys

show or prove which people in a group are truly competent, brave, or mature.
1968 House & Garden The Dry Martini…is a drink that will quickly separate the men from the boys and the girls from their principles.
See also: boy, men, separate

count sheep

count imaginary sheep jumping over a fence one by one in an attempt to send yourself to sleep.
1977 Harvey Pitcher When Miss Emmie was in Russia Did you know that if you count sheep, it is watching the sheep jump that sends you off?
See also: count, sheep

make sheep's eyes at someone

look at someone in a foolishly amorous way.
See also: eye, make

separate the sheep from the goats

divide people or things into superior and inferior groups.
This expression alludes to the parable of the Last Judgement in Matthew 25:32–3: ‘And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left’.
See also: goat, separate, sheep

a wolf in sheep's clothing

a person or thing that appears friendly or harmless but is really hostile and dangerous.
This expression comes from Jesus's words in Matthew 7:15: ‘Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves’.
See also: clothing, wolf

a/the black ˈsheep (of the family)

a person who is different from the rest of their family or another group, and who is considered bad or embarrassing: Debbie is the black sheep of the family, having left home at seventeen to live with her boyfriend.Shepherds used to dislike black sheep because their wool was not as valuable as white wool.
See also: black, sheep

count ˈsheep

imagine that sheep are jumping over a fence and count them, as a way of getting to sleep: Doug closed his eyes and tried counting sheep, but he still couldn’t get to sleep.
See also: count, sheep

like ˈsheep

(disapproving) if people behave like sheep, they all do what the others are doing, without thinking or deciding for themselves: If John says that something must be done, they do it. They just follow his orders like sheep.
See also: like, sheep

sort out/separate the ˌsheep from the ˈgoats

separate the good people from the bad people: The exams at the end of the first year usually separate the sheep from the goats.This comes from the belief that on Judgement Day (= the day the world ends) God will judge everybody who ever lived and decide who was good (= the sheep) and who was bad (= the goats).
See also: goat, out, separate, sheep, sort

(you, etc.) may/might as well be hanged/hung for a ˌsheep as (for) a ˈlamb

(saying) if you are going to be punished for doing something wrong, whether it is a big or small thing, you may as well do the big thing: I’m already late but I’ll stay and have another drink. May as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb.In the past, the punishment for stealing farm animals such as sheep was death by hanging.
See also: hanged, hung, lamb, may, might, sheep, well

a wolf in sheep’s ˈclothing

a person who appears friendly and nice but is really dangerous
See also: clothing, wolf

wolf in sheep's clothing

One who feigns congeniality while actually holding malevolent intentions.
See also: clothing, wolf

black sheep

A disreputable or unloved family member. Since the majority of domestic sheep have white fleece, a black one would be different from the rest of the flock. And because the word “black” has a historically strong negative connotation, one of that color would be unwanted (in real life, sheep farmers don't like them because black fleece, which can't be dyed, is less commercially valuable). In the age of politically correct speech, the phrase is now infrequently used, and that's not because family members now get along in greater harmony than they once did.
See also: black, sheep
References in periodicals archive ?
As the NSA says, 'There's no shame in having sheep scab - the shame is not dealing with it.