Black Sheep of the Family

Dear anonymous internet people, settle a dispute…when someone says “[So and so] is the black sheep of the family,” would you say:
A. the expression ‘black sheep’ necessarily carries a negative connotation
B. the expression simply means ‘they’re different’ and no negative connotation is inherent
C. depends on the context

Bonus round - what do you think are the origins of this expression?

(and since this is posted in the IMHO sub-forum, my opinion is ‘black sheep’ is consistent with A.)

It is generally negative but does occasionally depend on context.

To the best of my knowledge, Black Sheep of the Family is just referring to how rare a black sheep is among all of the white coated ones. The black wool was of course of nearly no value as it could not be died.

Agree with this, although I’d say it normally negative - can’t think of a positive association. The phrase, I think, comes from England, where the wool trade was of huge economic importance throughout the middle and later ages. A black sheep isn’t good for business.

I started to go with C, but the only context I can think of is when used ironically (Joe’s the black sheep of the family, he’s a doctor and his siblings are unemployed).
Given the context is very limited case I’m going with A.

It’s originally negative, but it’s also one of those negatives which are sometimes taken up by the people to whom they refer. An example of the last would be “I’m the black sheep of my family: I can read!”

Pretty much negative - that’s how it’s always seemed to me. I didn’t know the origins, but I used to think it was because most sheep (at least that I saw) were white, so if one was black, it was a mutant… Don’t question my child mind. :stuck_out_tongue:

I would generally guess A although if someone said “No one reads in my family but me; guess I’m the black sheep”, I wouldn’t debate them on it.

If someone said “Carol is the black sheep of her family” without context, I would assume it’s negative.

Definitely negative. It’s usually where they are talking about somebody who “went off the rails”, ran off to the Continent and wasted all his money on women and gambling, that sort of thing. That’s what it brings to mind to me, from books and movies.

As a black sheep, I would promote the more nuanced: “The family to which the black sheep belongs views the black sheep negatively.” I don’t consider being on the outs with my family as a bad thing. At all.

My initial reaction was to choose A, but after thinking about it a bit, I’m more inclined to say B.

I have no negatives to say about my brother, but he would definitely be the “black sheep” of the family. He’s not bad, but if something wild, crazy, unbelievable happened in the family and you had to guess who it happened to, it’d definitely be him that I chose. He’s always gone to beat of his own drum; so to speak.

I’d say it’s negative, but it’s supposed to be negative. It generally comes with a minor insult made about that person behind their back.

IMO, if you want to stay away from the negative connotation, referring to someone as an odd duck has a lot more room for interpretation.

But I think anyone who wouldn’t view a person negatively wouldn’t refer to them as a black sheep. The people who are saying it have a negative view except in cases where it’s being used ironically.

Side note: Black sheep sell for more.

A) negative

Black sheep came from the fact that black sheep wool couldn’t be dyed and was therefore not worth as much. (them’s eatin’ sheep?)

Is that so? I wonder if that was the case centuries ago when the phrase was coined.

Oh la, 'tis true. Black sheep are larger. Or at least they appear so.

This basically. And sometimes it becomes a badge of honor. My mother considers me the “black sheep” (bordering on “the antichrist”) which considering my family I take as quite a compliment.

It’s negative, but it can be ironically negative.

It’s not only negative, it’s a claim that the family they came from has an established bloodline known to produce good and productive people, but that they’re an exception, somehow, with an inborn weakness of character that a proper upbringing could in no way correct.

I was surprised to learn that white wool is a dominant trait and can mask genes for other colors. If that was well known back when the phrase was coined, it might also be a claim that their parents (and grandparents, and on) chose good and productive people to wed and can’t be blamed for this problem that they have to bear.

Oh, and black isn’t the only other color a sheep can be. There are browns and tans and rusts.

I’m definitely the rust sheep of my family.