char·​la·​tan | \ ˈshär-lə-tən How to pronounce charlatan (audio) \

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 \ ˈshär-​lə-​tə-​ˌni-​zəm How to pronounce charlatanism (audio) \ noun
charlatanry \ ˈshär-​lə-​tən-​rē How to pronounce charlatanry (audio) \ 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 The twist is that the kids and their biological dad, a guy who happens to be the object of a cruel charlatan queen’s (Sylvia Hoeks) obsession, can see. Judy Berman, Time, "What to Watch—and What to Skip—on Apple TV+," 28 Oct. 2019 Into the void created by the lack of authoritative studies, charlatans have rushed in. Peter Rowe, San Diego Union-Tribune, "CBDs: a ‘Wild West’ of wild claims," 20 Oct. 2019 And proximity to power has always had its attractions for religious charlatans of all stripes. David French, Time, "Evangelicals Are Supporting Trump Out of Fear, Not Faith," 27 June 2019 The other is the word being hijacked by entrepreneurs, quacks, and charlatans to sell a bogus treatment that allegedly detoxifies your body of toxins you’re supposed to have accumulated. Brittney Mcnamara, Teen Vogue, "Detox Diets Aren't Real or Healthy — and Body "Toxins" Don't Exist," 1 Jan. 2019 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 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 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 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 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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The first known use of charlatan was in 1618

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Last Updated

16 Nov 2019

Cite this Entry

“Charlatan.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 12 December 2019.

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More Definitions for charlatan


How to pronounce charlatan (audio)

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 How to pronounce charlatan (audio) \

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 How to pronounce charlatan (audio) \

Medical Definition of charlatan

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