char·​la·​tan ˈshär-lə-tən How to pronounce charlatan (audio)
: quack entry 4 sense 2
charlatans harming their patients with dubious procedures
: one making usually showy pretenses to knowledge or ability : fraud, faker
a charlatan willing to do and say virtually anything to remain in the spotlightAlan Brinkley
charlatanism noun
charlatanry noun

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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.

Example Sentences

the famed faith healer turned out to be a charlatan
Recent Examples on the Web How about getting ripped off by a charlatan? Keith Kloor, Discover Magazine, 13 Jan. 2011 More broadly, the list serves to recognize firms that are likely to be here for decades to come, and to hold up good actors in the crypto industry who—contrary to popular perception—outnumber the charlatans and scoundrels. Jeff John Roberts, Fortune Crypto, 10 Apr. 2023 Justice rained out across this great nation, as the rule of law was finally restored and America sent a stern rebuke to hucksters and charlatans everywhere: Gwyneth Paltrow won her ski lawsuit. Vulture, 31 Mar. 2023 Seeing another surgeon, another wellness charlatan. Washington Post, 6 Aug. 2021 There's some charlatans in this business for sure. Eric Berger, Ars Technica, 6 Mar. 2023 Ideas like those were once considered to be extreme, confined to the outskirts of right-wing media where shameless charlatans like Alex Jones spin fantasies for their audiences. Oliver Darcy, CNN, 6 Mar. 2023 The history he’s helped uncover sheds light on a product that was coveted by the kings of France, sanctioned by popes, sold by traveling charlatans, and earned mentions in the works of Molière, Voltaire and Balzac. Elizabeth Heath, Discover Magazine, 15 Feb. 2023 Be wary of falling under a charlatan's spell. Chicago Tribune, 25 Oct. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'charlatan.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1618, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of charlatan was in 1618


Dictionary Entries Near charlatan

Cite this Entry

“Charlatan.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


char·​la·​tan ˈshär-lə-tən How to pronounce charlatan (audio)
: a person who pretends to have knowledge or ability

from Italian ciarlatano "charlatan," an altered form of cerretano (same meaning), literally, "inhabitant of Cerreto (village in Italy)"

Word Origin
In the early 16th century people claiming medical skills they did not really have wandered throughout Italy. They sold medicines of little or no value. Because many of these fakers came from a village called Cerreto, the name cerretano, meaning "inhabitant of Cerreto," became a general name for a medical faker. Such people always had a line of talk to help them sell their products. Through the influence of the Italian word ciarlare, meaning "to chatter," the word cerretano, when used to refer to these fakers, became ciarlatano. It is from this word that we get our English charlatan.

Medical Definition


char·​la·​tan ˈshär-lət-ən How to pronounce charlatan (audio)
: quack

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