Suppose in a very respectable and reputable family, there is a narcotic addicted young boy who is not acceptable by his family. Family are embarrassed to appear in public and social areas (like ceremonies and so on) just because of having such a child. They have attempted to make him quit, but all their efforts have been futile. Once the family daughter who's been driven mad at her brothers behaviors and is asked about her brother (e.g. by a close friend), wants to say "He is the black sheep of my family."

We all know the meaning, but I would be really thankful if one could tell me if I can replace black sheep with the word disgrace in this particular sense in the manner that I could convey exactly the same message?

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    He is the disgrace of my family is technically correct, but sounds unnatural. We would say He is a disgrace to my family. Aug 1, 2016 at 18:43

2 Answers 2


Yes, you can.

"He is the disgrace of my family."

Although this is correct and people will have no problem understanding the meaning, it would generally be more common to phrase it like this:

"He is a disgrace to my family."


In fact, "He is a disgrace to my family" is perhaps a better choice. "Black Sheep" might fail to convey the real shame and embarrassment the family feels. Black Sheep often connotes a much more mild sense of not fitting in, or being a bit eccentric, as in this quotation from found on the Corpus..http://corpus.byu.edu/coha/ . In fact, my quick search found many of these milder versions, and nothing suggesting real oprobrium.

Without so much as a prod from their father, the girls had all not only chosen medicine, but excelled in respectable specialties: Elise, a cardiologist; Johanna, a pediatrician; even the black sheep, Kerstin, was an oncologist.

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    The uses you are finding in the corpora are intended to be somewhat humorous, I think. Many dictionaries clearly indicate that term can be used to convey disgrace, embarrassment, or shame.
    – J.R.
    Aug 1, 2016 at 21:20
  • Agreed, but that's the only kind of usage I see there. Lacking any context, the sentence, "Joe is the black sheep of my family" could be misconstrued as suggested. "Joe is a disgrace to my family" - probably not. Aug 2, 2016 at 19:12

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