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(KWAK-sal-vuhr) Pronunciation RealAudio

noun: A quack.

From obsolete Dutch (now kwakzalver), from quack (boast) + salve (ointment).

Did the quacksalver hawk their concoctions of quicksilver (mercury) as a panacea to earn the name quacksalver? While the connection with quicksilver is enticing, it's their duck-like behavior while peddling the snake oil that gave us this colorful synonym for a charlatan. Imagine someone mounted on a bench, holding vials of solutions in assorted colors while claiming to cure everything from chronic backpain to pyorrhea to migraine, and you'd have a good idea of a quacksalver. In fact, this image is the source of another term for these cure-alls: mountebank. It comes to us from Italian montimbanco, from montare (to climb) and banco (bench). In modern times, these hucksters have adapted to use technology. Today our mailbox might be filled with email messages quacking about the efficacy of nostrums for weight-loss, enlarging certain body-parts, improving memory, and curing anything else that ails humankind.

"So any quacksalver with a computer and a copy machine can turn his vegetable stand into a multibillion-zloty chain train of grocery stores."
Malcolm Berko; Don't Waste Your Money in Unregulated Markets; San Diego Business Journal; Jun 19, 1997.

This week's theme: Words that appear misspelling of everyday words


Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it. -Michel de Montaigne, essayist (1533-1592)

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