sham Abraham

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Alternative forms[edit]


First attested in the late 18th century.[1] From sham + Abraham man (a beggar who pretends to be ill)


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


sham Abraham (third-person singular simple present shams Abraham, present participle shamming Abraham, simple past and past participle shammed Abraham)

  1. (idiomatic, obsolete, Britain, thieves' cant) To pretend sickness or insanity.
    • 1759, Goldsmith, Oliver, The Works of Oliver Goldsmith[1], volume 3, published 1835, The Citizen of the World, Letter CXIX, page 331:
      The boatswain found me, as he said, an obstinate fellow: he swore that I understood my business perfectly well, but that I shammed Abraham merely to be idle.
    • 1849, Brontë, Charlotte, Shirley[2], volume 3, pages 219–220:
      Matthew, sceptic and scoffer, had already failed to subscribe a prompt belief in that pain about the heart: he had muttered some words, amongst which the phrase "shamming Abraham" had been very distinctly audible.

Usage notes[edit]

The term was used by workmen to mean taking time off work through this pretense. Used by sailors to mean being put on the sick list in order to shirk duty.



Related terms[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ “sham Abraham” in Lesley Brown, editor-in-chief; William R. Trumble and Angus Stevenson, editors, The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, 5th edition, Oxford; New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2002, →ISBN, page 7.
  • Grose, Francis (1788) A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue[3], 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)
  • “sham Abraham” 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, page 8.
  • Farmer, John Stephen (1890) Slang and Its Analogues[4], volume 1, page 10