char·​la·​tan | \ˈshär-lə-tən \

Definition of charlatan 

1 : quack entry 4 sense 2 charlatans harming their patients with dubious procedures

2 : one making usually showy pretenses to knowledge or ability : fraud, faker a charlatan willing to do and say virtually anything to remain in the spotlight— Alan Brinkley

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Other Words from charlatan

charlatanism \-​tə-​ˌni-​zəm \ noun
charlatanry \-​rē \ noun

Did You Know?

In medieval times, people claiming medical skills they did not have roamed throughout Italy, selling "medicine" that was often completely without worth. 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, rather like the chatter of a circus barker. The Italian word for "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, we had anglicized the Italian word to charlatan and adopted it as our own.

Examples of charlatan in a Sentence

the famed faith healer turned out to be a charlatan

Recent Examples on the Web

But does that mean Boyce Watkins is a con artist or a charlatan? Michael Harriot, The Root, "How Boyce Watkins Became the Negro Whisperer, Explained," 6 Feb. 2018 But where some see an advocate, many others — particularly white people in town — see a charlatan. New York Times, "From Fighting Injustice to Facing Death Row: The Bizarre Case of Pastor Glasgow," 7 July 2018 Some people wonder: why did so many bright young Japanese fall for such an obvious charlatan? The Economist, "On the hanging of Shoko Asahara, Japan’s nerve-gas guru," 12 July 2018 Still, none of West’s previous actions have elicited as much furor as his recent support of Donald Trump, his assertion that four centuries of slavery sounded like a choice—by the enslaved, or his cozying up to right-wing charlatans. Julian Kimble, GQ, "So Appalled: Kanye West Fans Debate What to Do with All that Yeezy Merch," 22 June 2018 And medicine, like any other profession, has its charlatans and jerks, and is certainly being perverted by the bean counters. Judith Shulevitz, New York Times, "Is Our Obsession With Wellness Doing Us In?," 11 June 2018 Florida is using nearly $1 billion of your tax dollars to teach kids in voucher schools fake science and distorted history — all because uneducated charlatans have figured out how to intimidate state legislators. Lauren Ritchie,, "Florida must stop paying $1 billion a year to 'educate' children in fringe religious nonsense," 9 June 2018 These Christians have fallen for a cut-rate King David, a charlatan Solomon, a false prophet. Sarah Jones, The New Republic, "What’s Next for Evangelicalism?," 7 June 2018 But days like this one are helpful reminders that Cruz is also an intellectually dishonest charlatan who has no qualms about misleading constituents in order to promote an ideological agenda. Jay Willis, GQ, "Ted Cruz Has No Problem Misleading Voters for Even the Faintest Semblance of Praise," 5 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'charlatan.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of charlatan

1618, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for charlatan

Italian ciarlatano, alteration of cerretano, literally, inhabitant of Cerreto, from Cerreto, Italy

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Statistics for charlatan

Last Updated

19 Oct 2018

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Time Traveler for charlatan

The first known use of charlatan was in 1618

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More Definitions for charlatan



English Language Learners Definition of charlatan

: a person who falsely pretends to know or be something in order to deceive people


char·​la·​tan | \ˈshär-lə-tən \

Kids Definition of charlatan

: a person who falsely pretends to know or be something The charlatan sold useless medicinal potions.


char·​la·​tan | \ˈshär-lət-ən \

Medical Definition of charlatan 

: quack

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