Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Charlatan

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is charlatan. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

charlatan is a person who pretends to know or be something in order to deceive people.

// Some people thought he was a great leader, but others saw him as just a charlatan.

CHARLATAN in Context

“A particular gripe of mine is when bogus scientific results, sometimes fraudulent, sometimes just sloppy, manage to sneak into the peer-reviewed scientific literature. This happens all too often, especially as the number of papers published each year has grown. These bad papers are then used by fraudsters and charlatans (and sometimes by innocent people who just don’t have the expertise to understand) to ‘prove’ an unscientific claim.” — Steven Salzberg, Forbes, 25 July 2022

Did You Know?

In medieval Italy, people roamed throughout the land selling fake remedies and making false claims about their healing abilities. Many of these pretenders reputedly came from a village called Cerreto, and as a result, cerretano (meaning “inhabitant of Cerreto”) became an epithet for a quack physician. In addition, these frauds used a practiced patter to attract customers, like the chatter of a circus barker. The Italian word for “to chatter” is ciarlare, and chattering was so associated with the cerretano that the spelling of the word shifted to ciarlatano. By the early 17th century, English speakers had anglicized the Italian word to charlatan and adopted it as their own.

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