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 charlatan (audio) \ noun
charlatanry \ ˈshär-​lə-​tən-​rē How to pronounce charlatan (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 Covering that charlatan Mark Cuban’s socialist Mavericks? Eric Walden, The Salt Lake Tribune, "Eric Walden: God bless the NBA for thwarting Mark Cuban’s socialist, un-American agenda," 13 Feb. 2021 What if the person claiming to be your soul mate is a charlatan? Washington Post, "In ‘Soulmates,’ science discovers a way to find your perfect match — and opens a world of problems," 4 Oct. 2020 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 sharing the load beautifully with an ensemble of gifted actors keen on exploring the human condition. Ben Flanagan |, al, "Celebrate Tom Cruise’s birthday with his 10 best movies," 3 July 2020 It has been fed generously by demagogues, charlatans, and even great innovators throughout American history. David Z. Morris, Fortune, "Bitcoin can’t fix this," 3 June 2020 For centuries, worthless and sometimes harmful treatments, ranging from arsenic to swamp root, have been promoted by everyone from charlatans to well-meaning clinicians. G. Caleb Alexander, STAT, "Searching for an effective Covid-19 treatment: promise and peril," 10 Apr. 2020 One day later Kenleigh discontinued his clinic, in part because of the volume of the response and in part because people accused Kenleigh, a licensed doctor, with being a charlatan. Shari Rudavsky, Indianapolis Star, "Coronavirus testing in Indiana: What you need to know," 6 Apr. 2020 The charlatan provides no references, and ignores the scientist who requests them. Cara Rosenbloom,, "Skeptics use science to fight wave of bad nutrition advice on the internet," 7 Feb. 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

25 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Charlatan.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Mar. 2021.

Style: MLA
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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 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

: quack

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