UK ante-1561. From patients claiming, genuinely or not, to be temporarily discharged from the Abraham ward at Bethlem Royal Hospital (also known as Bedlam)—a psychiatric hospital in London, Kingdom of England—for the purpose of begging.
First attested in The Fraternity of Vagabonds (1561) by John Awdely.
- (obsolete, Britain, thieves' cant, historical) A mentally ill beggar.
- (obsolete, Britain, thieves' cant, historical) By extension, any beggar who pretends to be ill, physically or mentally, to obtain alms.
1608, Dekker, Thomas, The Bel-Man of London, J. M. Dent & Sons, published 1905, An Abraham-man, page 98–99:
- Of all the mad rascalls (that are of this wing) the Abraham-man is the most phantastick: The fellow (quoth this old Lady of the Lake unto me) that sat halfe naked (at table to day) from the girdle upward, is the best Abraham-man that ever came to my house and the notablest villaine: he sweares he hath bin in bedlam, and will talke frantickly of purpose […]
- For more examples of usage of this term, see Citations:Abraham man.
- Abram, Abram-cove, Abram cove, Abraham-cove, Abraham cove, Bedlam beggar, God's minstrel, Poor Tom, Tom of Bedlam, Tom of Bedlam's man
- Abraham sham, Abram sham
- sham Abraham, sham Abram
- do Abram
- Abraham suit
- go on the Abraham suit
- Abraham work
- Grose, Francis (1788) A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 2nd edition, London: S. Hooper
- Grose, Francis, The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue / Lexicon Balatronicum: A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence: altered and enlarged (London; 1811)
- “Abraham man” in Albert Barrère and Charles G[odfrey] Leland, compilers and editors, A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant, volume I (A–K), Edinburgh: The Ballantyne Press, 1889–1890, pages 7–8.
- Farmer, John Stephen (1890) Slang and Its Analogues, volume 1, pages 9–10