ruminant mammal of the genus Ovis, as a domestic species, one of the animals most useful to humans, Old English sceap, scep, Northumbrian scap, from West Germanic *skæpan (source also of Old Saxon scap, Old Frisian skep, Middle Low German schap, Middle Dutch scaep, Dutch schaap, Old High German scaf, German Schaf), a word of unknown origin. Not found in Scandinavian (Danish has faar for "sheep") or Gothic (which uses lamb), and with no known cognates outside Germanic. The more usual Indo-European word for the animal is represented in English by ewe.
The plural form was leveled with the singular in Old English, but Old Northumbrian had a plural scipo. From Old English as a type of timidity and figuratively of those under the guidance of God. The meaning "stupid, timid person" is attested from 1540s.
The image of the wolf in sheep's clothing was in Old English (from Matthew vii.15); that of separating the sheep from the goats is from Matthew xxv.33; the phrase itself by 1570s. To count sheep in a bid to induce sleep is recorded from 1854 but seems not to have been commonly written about until 1870s. It might simply be a type of a tedious activity, but an account of shepherd life from Australia from 1849 ["Sidney's Emigrant's Journal"] describes the night-shepherd ("hut-keeper") taking a count of the sheep regularly at the end of his shift to protect against being answerable for any animals later lost or killed.
Sheep's eyes "loving looks" is attested from 1520s (compare West Frisian skiepseach, Dutch schaapsoog, German Schafsauge). A sheep-biter was "an ill-trained mongrel, a dog that worries sheep" (1540s) and had extended senses: a mutton-monger" (1590s); and "a whore-monger" (1610s, i.e. one who "chases mutton"); hence Shakespeare's sheep-biting "thieving, sneaky." An old London chronicle c. 1450 has went to sheep-wash for "were slain."
late 12c., "leather made from the skin of a sheep," especially when dressed or preserved with the wool on, from sheep + skin (n.). By mid-14c. as "piece of parchment with writing on it;" the U.S. slang meaning "diploma" dates from 1804; so called because formerly they were written on sheepskin parchment.
by 1792, in the figurative sense of "person of bad character; member of some group guilty of offensive conduct that does little credit to the flock, family, or community to which he belongs," supposedly because a real black sheep (there was proverbially one in every flock) had wool that could not be dyed and thus was of less worth. But one black sheep in a flock was considered good luck by shepherds in Sussex, Somerset, Kent, Derbyshire. First known publication of Baa Baa Black Sheep nursery rhyme is in "Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book" (c. 1744).
c. 1200, shepishe, "of, pertaining to, or resembling a sheep" in some perceived characteristic, from sheep + -ish. Originally "meek, modest, docile, simple," often as qualities of good Christians. With suggestions of "easy to deceive" by c. 1400. The sense of "bashful, over-modest, awkward and timorous among strangers" is recorded by 1690s. Related: Sheepishly; sheepishness. Chaucer, Sidney, and Dylan Thomas uses sheepy (adj.). Sheeply (Old English had sceaplic "of a sheep") seems less common.
Middle English shep-herd, "man who leads, tends, and guards sheep in a pasture," from Old English sceaphierde, from sceap "sheep" (see sheep) + hierde "herder," from heord "a herd" (see herd (n.)). Similar formation in Middle Low German, Middle Dutch schaphirde, Middle High German schafhirte, German dialectal Schafhirt.
Shepherds customarily were buried with a tuft of wool in hand, to prove on Doomsday their occupation and be excused for often missing Sunday church. Shepherd's pie is recorded from 1877; so called because the meat in it was typically mutton or lamb.
The shepherd's pie, a dish of minced meat with a topping, first surfaces in the 1870s, roughly contemporaneously with the mincing machine which did so much to help establish it in the British cook's repertoire. [Ayto, "Diner's Dictionary"]
"pertaining to or of the nature of sheep," 1824, from Late Latin ovīnus, from Latin ovis "sheep," from PIE root *owi- "sheep" (see ewe).