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Sheeple, sometimes spelled sheople, is a portmanteau of the words "sheep" and "people" used mainly by political cranks (typically wingnuts) to describe the great unwashed masses that are blissfully unaware of whatever fringe issue is currently in vogue.
Analogous in use is the word "zombie", a word (as of recent years) trending in popular culture and video-games, which has been picked up by cranks like conspiracy theorist Mark Dice in order to try to lure people closer to his worldview. Godspeed, Mark. The internet has also spawned a meme known as the "NPC" or "Non-Player Character" to describe the unconscious, script running brainwashed masses.
The term was, according to some sources, popularized in the late 1980s by William Cooper, but it appeared earlier than that in the Wall Street Journal in a 1984 article attributing the term to the John Birch Society. Wikipedia cites one earlier instance of the term in the Emory University Quarterly, 1950. The metaphor of sheep standing for the clueless public believing everything their political masters told them was of course used by George Orwell in his fable Animal Farm.
It is a favorite of uneducated teenage YouTube commenters and libertarian conspiracy theorists who use it to describe anyone whose heart does not skip a beat in love every time Ron Paul, Rand Paul or Gary Johnson's name is mentioned—in other words, those who don't blindly and slavishly agree with the aforementioned. Michael Savage uses it as well. It is most commonly used by cornered cranks who are running out of false facts or have had all their "evidence" debunked, or as a last ditch attempt to substitute actual evidence. The irony in this is that most conspiracy nuts that whip this word out are commonly, blindly following a 'theory' without having even a smidge of evidence supporting it, and sometimes, not even understanding it (in the case of technical matters, such as the 9/11 collapses). Among survivalists it is a reference to those who are Not Prepared for the Great Calamity Which Is Coming Shortly and who instead assume the government will take care of them in case of a disaster, à la Hurricane Katrina.[note 1] Common to dealing with persons in all these categories and more is the strong impression that one is in the presence of a frustrated would-be shepherd.
While it is true that the majority of Americans fail to understand even the most basic facts about civics,[note 2] reality is not a popularity contest. The level of acceptance of an idea among greater society does not have significant bearing to the merits of the idea—Galileo and Charles Darwin went through significant backlash to their scientific theories in their lifetimes, but their ideas have gained wide acceptance in the scientific community. On one hand, American culture needs to value knowledge and intellect more, so that people can hold honestly informed opinions about society. On the other hand, the reason why so many sheeple are rejecting the crazy conspiracy theory of the week could be because the theory is simply a lie or with very little basis in fact.
What is the singular form?
Q: If sheep is the singular of... sheep, and person is the singular of people, it is not clear what an individual within the sheeple herd is to be called - "sherson"? "Sheepson"? "Sheerpson"? Or perhaps just "sheeple"? (Although the latter just seems like grammatical error.)
A: A sheep.
A surprising number of folks who brand their opponents as "sheeple" are themselves members of the Religious Right, who view the Bible as the inerrant word of God. Their Bible encourages the followers of Christ to behave like "sheep" in the care of their "shepherd," avoiding false shepherds that turn out to be wolves in sheep's clothing.
Wake up, sheeple!
- Hey, wait a minute, the government did take care of them, didn't it?
- For example: "Despite nearly constant news coverage since the war there began in 2003, 63 percent of Americans aged 18 to 24 failed to correctly locate the country on a map of the Middle East." John Roach, "Young Americans Geographically Illiterate, Survey Suggests." National Geographic: May 2, 2006.