sham Abraham


Alternative formsEdit


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, Currer Bell [pseudonym; Charlotte Brontë], Shirley. A Tale. [], volume (please specify |volume=I, II, or III), London: Smith, Elder and Co., [], OCLC 84390265:
      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 notesEdit

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 termsEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Lesley Brown, editor-in-chief; William R. Trumble and Angus Stevenson, editors (2002), “sham Abraham”, in The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, 5th edition, Oxford; New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, →ISBN, page 7.
  • [Francis Grose] (1785), “Sham Abraham”, in A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 2nd edition, London: Printed for S. Hooper, [], OCLC 1179630700.
  • [Francis] Grose [et al.] (1811), “Sham Abraham”, 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), “sham Abraham”, in A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant [], volume I (A–K), Edinburgh: [] The Ballantyne Press, OCLC 882571771, page 8.
  • Farmer, John Stephen (1890) Slang and Its Analogues[2], volume 1, page 10