Get to Know the UK: Sheep-Worrying

sheep worrying

I don’t think I managed to worry any sheep!

As a writer and translator I deal with language all day, everyday. And the longer I live in the UK, the more my eyes are opened to the huge chasm between US English and UK English. While (or is it whilst?) there’s certainly a lot of overlap, there is still no shortage of words and phrases originating the UK that would have the average American scratching his or her head, so I’ve decided to highlight one per week in attempt to share with you all the wonderful world of UK English.

This should be a lot of fun for all you Anglophiles and word nerds out there.

I’m kicking off the series with a truly bizarre term: Sheep-Worrying

sheep-worrying (ˈʃiːpˌwʌrɪɪŋ))

Noun – (agriculture) the act (of a dog, sheepdog, wolf, etc) of chasing a flock of sheep and biting or injuring the sheep.

Ex. Farmers were allowed to shoot other men’s dogs if they were caught sheep-worrying.


Yep, sheep worrying. I know what you’re thinking: surely this is some sort of archaic term no one uses anymore. Nope. Sheep-worrying actually pops up quite a bit in newspaper articles here in the UK, especially around lambing season.

Here are a few examples:

“Farmer shoots £800 family dog for worrying sheep.” (Full article here)

“DOG owners in Derbyshire are urged to keep their pets under control following complaints of sheep worrying.” (Full article here)

“We are urging dog owners to be responsible around sheep and warning them that sheep worrying is a crime.” (Full article here)

1 Response

  1. John Evans 30 December, 2015 / 5:32 pm

    Yes that it a very British English term isn’t it, but hardly surprising since the wealth of the English and Welsh nations has been derived from sheep farming for hundreds of years, and we still have a lot of sheep in the UK.

    I live in an Outer-London borough that has quite a few farms, only 13 miles or so from the City of London. A new public footpath was recently opened up across some farmland where they keep sheep. Unfortunately, some of the local urban dog owners didn’t understand about the dog versus sheep thing, so at lambing time several stern notices appeared on the fences next to the footpath warning dog walkers not to let their animals worry the sheep. Sheep worrying can cause pregnant ewes to abort their lambs, which besides being very stressful for the mother sheep, also has undesirable economic consequences for the farmer.

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