patent medicine

noun

: a nonprescription medicinal preparation that is typically protected by a trademark and whose contents are incompletely disclosed
also : any drug that is a proprietary

Note: Patent medicine is often used to refer to a product (such as an elixir, tonic, or liniment) that was marketed as a medicine in the U.S. during the 1800s and early 1900s but was typically of unproven effectiveness and questionable safety.

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web The classic form of medical quackery in the U.S. market was patent medicine — basically useless concoctions made mainly of alcohol and morphine, sometimes containing downright damaging ingredients like lead and arsenic. Kim Adams, Discover Magazine, 30 June 2020 Who wouldn’t be thrilled by a single pill that could fix every unrelated malady? Pink Pills for Pale People were a ubiquitous patent medicine and thus a constant target for criticism. David Reamer, Anchorage Daily News, 21 Nov. 2021 The patent medicine industry would not fully collapse until the 1930s. Nicole Hemmer, CNN, 28 Sep. 2021 As such, the heyday of patent medicine emphasizes the need for scientific testing and logical skepticism, particularly when confronted by cure-alls and other extraordinary claims. David Reamer, Anchorage Daily News, 21 Nov. 2021 Medicine shows were the entertainment arm of one of the era's most powerful industries: patent medicine. Nicole Hemmer, CNN, 28 Sep. 2021 Two of the handmade figures represented a banjo player and a character dubbed Doc Cogwheel, a patent medicine salesperson. Dewayne Bevil, orlandosentinel.com, 7 Dec. 2020 In the 1670s, what came to be called Jesuit bark had made its way into a popular patent medicine, along with rose leaves, lemon juice, and wine. Adam Rogers, Wired, 11 Nov. 2020 Naturally this unit can be tuned still further for racing purposes by such patent medicines as Dr. Shelby's Cobra Elixir (or imitations available from your local Performance Drugstore). Car and Driver, 17 Apr. 2020 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'patent medicine.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History

First Known Use

1770, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of patent medicine was in 1770

Dictionary Entries Near patent medicine

Cite this Entry

“Patent medicine.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/patent%20medicine. Accessed 28 Jan. 2023.

Kids Definition

patent medicine

noun
: a medicine (as cough syrup) available for sale to the public without a doctor's prescription, that is protected by a trademark, has contents which may not be fully disclosed, and especially in the past was often of unproven effectiveness

Medical Definition

patent medicine

noun
pat·​ent medicine
ˈpat-ᵊnt-, British usually ˈpāt-
: a nonprescription medicinal preparation that is typically protected by a trademark and whose contents are incompletely disclosed
also : any drug that is a proprietary

Note: Patent medicine is often used to refer to a product (as an elixir, tonic, or liniment) that was marketed as a medicine in the U.S. during the 1800s and early 1900s but was typically of unproven effectiveness and questionable safety.

Legal Definition

patent medicine

noun
: a packaged nonprescription drug which is protected by a trademark and whose contents are incompletely disclosed
also : any drug that is a proprietary

More from Merriam-Webster on patent medicine

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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