Definition of charlatan
- charlatans harming their patients with dubious procedures
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the famed faith healer turned out to be a charlatan
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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.
First Known Use: 1618See Words from the same year
: a person who falsely pretends to know or be something in order to deceive people
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