A Peeping Tom

This expression refers to a person who derives pleasure from peeping – out of both lewdness and curiosity – at things that he shouldn’t, in particular at women undressing. It derives from the middle of the 11th century when Leofric, the Earl of Mercia, established a Benedictine monastery near what is now Coventry. Soon the Earl had levied such a high tax that the people would have had to starve if they had paid it. So after a series of protests from the public, Leofric announced that he would only lift the tax if his wife Lady Godiva rode naked through the streets. She obliged, but made the condition to be imposed by her husband that the townsfolk should keep within their homes behind drawn or shuttered blinds. Only one man “Peeping Tom”, a tailor, ventured to look out as she rode by and consequently he was struck blind.

Words by Adam Jacot de Boinod, author of The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from around the World, published by Penguin Books and creator of the iPhone App Tingo, a quiz on Interesting Words

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