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.

Examples of charlatan in a Sentence

the famed faith healer turned out to be a charlatan
Recent Examples on the Web Take, for instance, that charlatan Justin Timberlake. Lauren Michele Jackson, The New Yorker, 29 Oct. 2023 Elizabeth and Calvin’s empirically minded atheism is often challenged by Christian characters—some generous true believers and others cruel charlatans. TIME, 13 Oct. 2023 That’s because the agency’s duty is to stand in the way of businesses desiring to push unsafe and ineffective nostrums at unwary consumers, and also in the way of a perverse idea that personal freedom includes the freedom to be gulled by charlatans. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 27 Sep. 2023 Meanwhile, a fresh-from-her-Oscar-win Michelle Yeoh beautifully navigates a crucial but sometimes invisible line between empath and charlatan in her limited screen time as Mrs. Reynolds. Todd Gilchrist, Variety, 9 Sep. 2023 But that may only leave a vacuum to be filled by the next glittery charlatan to catch the media’s attention. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 31 Aug. 2023 Silicon Valley’s shamans and charlatans regularly speak with such an astonishing blend of vanity, inanity and obliviousness that there isn’t much left for an enterprising satirist to add, but Hornsby’s descriptions frequently draw blood. Ron Charles, Washington Post, 4 July 2023 As a motivational speaker and a bit of a charlatan selling a pickup artist tutorial, Cruise rises to the occasion by certainly stealing scenes but also sharing the load beautifully with an ensemble of gifted actors keen on exploring the human condition. Ben Flanagan |, al, 3 July 2023 Will weight-loss drugs put diet charlatans out of business? Tamar Haspel, Washington Post, 9 June 2023 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 10 Dec. 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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