Abraham man

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See also: Abrahamman and Abraham-man


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Britain pre-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.

Possibly an allusion to a story in Luke 16, in which the beggar Lazarus ends up in Abraham's bosom.

First attested in The Fraternity of Vagabonds (1561) by John Awdely.


  • (US) IPA(key): /ˈeɪ.bɹəˌhæm mæn/, /ˈeɪ.bɹə.həm mæn/


Abraham man (plural Abraham men)

  1. (obsolete, UK, thieves' cant, historical) A mentally ill beggar.
  2. (obsolete, UK, thieves' cant, historical) By extension, any beggar who pretends to be ill, physically or mentally, to obtain alms.
    • 1561, Awdely, John, The Fraternitye of Vacabondes[1]:
      An Abraham man is he that walketh bare armed, and bare legged, and fayneth hymselfe mad, and caryeth a packe of wool, or a stycke with baken on it, or such lyke toy, and nameth himselfe poore Tom.
    • 1608, Dekker, Thomas, The Bel-Man of London[2], 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 quotations using this term, see Citations:Abraham man.


Derived terms[edit]


  • [Francis Grose] (1788), “Abraham man”, in A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 2nd edition, London: [] S. Hooper, [], OCLC 1179630700.
  • [Francis] Grose [et al.] (1811), “Abraham man”, in Lexicon Balatronicum. A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence. [], London: Printed for C. Chappell, [], OCLC 23927885.
  • Albert Barrère and Charles G[odfrey] Leland, compilers and editors (1889–1890), “Abraham man”, in A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant [], volume I (A–K), Edinburgh: [] The Ballantyne Press, OCLC 882571771, pages 7–8.
  • Farmer, John Stephen (1890) Slang and Its Analogues[3], volume 1, pages 9–10