obsolete To feign mental or physical illness or distress, so as to avoid work. Used especially among seamen. "Abram men" were a class of beggars who would roam the country pretending madness so that strangers might take pity on them and offer them alms. It came to light that the boatswain had shammed Abram, under the pretenses of consumption or some such wasting illness, so that he might remain at shore and drink up the profits from his previous voyage. He tore off his clothes and raved like a lunatic, but I could tell by the clarity in his eye that he was shamming Abram to avoid conscription into the local militia.
See also: sham
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.