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sheeple

noun [plural]

people who are easily persuaded and tend to follow what other people do

'I hope I can pass on a few thoughts … to encourage people to see that they are living in a conditioned illusion and we can change it any time we want. We can be people and not sheeple.'

David Icke in a discussion of his new sci-fi channel show June 2002

the term sheeple is often used to describe people who act in direct reaction to saturation advertising, going out and buying the 'must-have' fashions and fads of the moment

The term sheeple, which first appeared in the Wall Street Journal in 1984, has been used increasingly in the last couple of years due to the enhanced marketing potential afforded by online and satellite channel media. It is often used to describe people who act in direct reaction to saturation advertising, going out and buying the 'must-have' fashions and fads of the moment. Sheeple is also used more generally to refer to people who don't tend to think for themselves but basically follow the crowd or believe what the media tells them. In a June 2002 Guardian newspaper article, it was used in reference to individuals who had taken part in a survey resulting in the claim that 'four out of five Americans had said they would give up some freedom for greater security'.

The citation at the beginning of the article is from an individual who is a rather extreme believer in alternative ways of thinking, but his use of sheeple is the same, i.e. people should think for themselves, whereas sheeple's thoughts and reactions are based on what they have been led to believe by others.

Background – sheeple

The plural noun sheeple is what is technically referred to as a blend, a combination of the words sheep and people. A blend is a new word formed from parts of two (or possibly more) words in such a way that it cannot be further analyzed into morphemes (i.e. the smallest meaningful components of words). Other more familiar examples are brunch (breakfast and lunch) and chunnel (channel and tunnel). The concept of a blend (also called a portmanteau word) is nothing new. In Lewis Carroll's Alice Through the Looking Glass, written in 1872, Alice asks Humpty Dumpty to explain the words of a poem and he replies: 'Well slithy means lithe and slimy. Lithe is the same as active. You see it's like a portmanteau – there are two meanings packed up into one word.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 6th June 2003.

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