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What’s the Story Behind the Phrase ‘Peeping Tom?’

jugbo, Flickr

A peeping Tom is a person who secretly watches someone else, so how is it possible the expression has its roots in taxation?

The phrase stems from the legend of Lady Godiva, a noble woman who lived during the 11th century, and, sorry to say, was not the founder of Godiva Belgian Chocolates.

As it turns out, the good lady was upset at the heavy tax burden her husband had placed upon the impoverished people of Coventry, England. She implored her husband to reduce their taxes. Growing tired of her pleas, he decided to make her a bargain. If she rode through the town buck naked, he would do as she asked.

Lady Godiva took up her husband’s challenge, although he probably thought she would never go through with it. Before her revealing ride, she warned the townsfolk to stay inside their homes and close their shutters and doors. Only one man disobeyed her decree, and his name was Tom.

Peeping Tom tried to catch a glimpse of Lady Godiva as she rode by, clothed only in her long flowing hair. And now his name is synonymous for a naughty voyeur. Unfortunately for him, or so the legend goes, Tom was also struck blind for his misdeed and Lady Godiva was the last woman he ever laid his eyes upon.

[Encyclopaedia Romana]

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