In past centuries,
skins with wool were commonly used to make wigs. Judges wore large,
elaborate wigs to denote their line of work. Since these men sat
in judgment of others, they were obviously important. Consequently,
anyone with great power became equated with a big wig.
Figurative use is supposedly because a real black sheep had wool
that could not be dyed and was thus worthless. But one black
sheep in a flock was considered good luck by shepherds in Sussex,
Somerset, Kent, Derbyshire.
From "kitgut," and obsolete word for "fiddle." Catgut
was actually made from the intestines of sheep, not cats.
have to count their animals when they move their flocks from place
to place to make sure none have been left behind. In large flocks,
this could be a long and dull job that could lull a shepherd to
sleep. Counting sheep thus became a technique for falling asleep.
dyed in the
a processing step in which wool is dyed prior to spinning. Results
in deeper, longer-lasting color than when yarn is dyed. Came to
be used to describe anything deep and true, such as a personality
Originally a cut or mark in the
ear of sheep and cattle, serving as a sign of ownership.
outer covering of a sheep. Also used as a synonym for shearing,
or taking wool, from a sheep. Now used as a synonym for swindling
or taking money or other valuables from another person.
general, lack aggressive characteristics and behaviors as a result
of humanity's domestication efforts. Humans wanted sheep to be
docile and easy to handle and selected them for these traits.
Consequently, sheep, and lambs in particular, are exceptionally
gentle animals. The term is used to describe anything or anyone
days of handspinning, a weasel was a device used for measuring
lengths of yarn. After a given number of turns of a spinning
wheel, the weasel made a popping sound to mark the yardage. The
device became a timeless part of our language because it was
included in the children's song and game, "Pop Goes the
wool over someone's eyes
to wool wigs of the past. The wigs were large and easily slipped
forward over the wearer's face. Lawyers who successfully tricked
a judge would brag of having pulled the wool over the judge's
eyes. This use of the term was so common it entered general usage
for any trick or deceptive practice.
male sheep. Also a device used to crush or impact another object.
Mature male sheep have an aggressive behavior in which they lower
their heads and charge into an opponent or predator. For example,
a mature male sheep may ram a human it feels threatened by.
large numbers (of sheep, etc.) with a notch in a stick for each
a sheep in the sense of being bashful.
formerly made of sheepskin parchment.
of a wool shortage in the mid 1800s, manfacturers began to
collect used wool cloth and rags and reprocess them into yarn.
Textile workers termed the recycled cloth "shoddy." The
demand for uniforms during the Civil War greatly increased
the number of shoddy garments being produced. The shoddy uniforms
looked fine, but they wore out quickly. the thousands of Union
soldiers who wore the shoddy uniforms began using the term
to signify anything of substandard quality, just as we do today.
In the 1700s
nearly all colonial families spun their own wool to make their
own wool cloth. This work was usually done by the unmarried women
in the family. The term "spinster" became equated with
being a single woman. Consequently, even today single women are
sometimes referred to as "spinsters."
two shakes of a lamb's tail
A lamb can
shake its tail twice very quickly. This may be an
enlargement of an older saying, "in a couple of shakes,"
meaning a double shake of the
hand, two shakes of a dice box, two shakes of a dustcloth, or
whatever it may be that takes little more time in shaking twice
than in shaking once.
Indulging in wandering fancies and purposeless thinking, from
the literal meaning "gathering fragments of wool torn from
sheep by bushes, etc."