sheep-biter

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English[edit]

Alternative forms[edit]

Etymology[edit]

sheep + biter (one who bites). Figurative term possibly influenced by the fable "De cane oves domini sui occidente, a quo suspensus est" in Hecatomythium by Laurentius Abstemius (later included with Aesop's Fables as "A Sheep-Biter Hang'd" — see quotations).

Noun[edit]

sheep-biter (plural sheep-biters)

  1. (obsolete) A sheepdog that worries (chases or attacks) sheep.
    • 1592, Nashe, Thomas, Pierce Penniless:
      What curre will not bawle, & be ready to flye on a mans face, when he is set on by his master, who, if hee bee not by to encourage him, he casts his taile betwixt his legges, & steales away like a sheepe byter.
  2. (obsolete, figuratively, derogatory) A contemptible person, expecially one who practices petty thefts.
    • 1573, Tusser, Thomas, Five Hundreth Pointes of Good Husbandrie:
      His gait, like a sheep-biter, fleering aside
    • 1604, Dekker, Thomas; Middleton, Thomas, The Honest Whore, Act 2, Scene 1:
      A poor man has but one ewe, and this grandee sheep-biter leaves whole flocks of fat wethers, whom he may knock down, to deuour this.
    • c. 1605–1608, Shakespeare, William, Twelfth Night, Act 2, Scene 5:
      Wouldst thou not be glad to have the niggardly, / rascally sheep-biter come by some notable / shame?
    • 1669, L'Estrange, Sir Roger, Fables of Aesop and Other Eminent Mythologists[1], Fable CCCXXX: A Sheep-Biter Hang'd, page 296:
      There are Political Sheep-biters as well as Pastoral; Betrayers of Publick Trusts as well as of Private; And Humane Curs that are as Wolvish as the Other.

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