snake oil


Definition of snake oil

1 : any of various substances or mixtures sold (as by a traveling medicine show) as medicine usually without regard to their medical worth or properties

Examples of snake oil in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Populism of questionable authenticity was not invented in 2015, and no party has a monopoly on snake oil. Jake Tapper, The Atlantic, "Still Falling for It," 8 Oct. 2020 People are scared right now, and that's a great time for snake oil salesmen to move in for the strike. Arkansas Online, "OPINION | EDITORIAL: Snake oil," 3 Oct. 2020 Papers claiming benefits of snake oil should also be prioritized for retraction. Adam Marcus, Wired, "Science Journals Are Purging Racist, Sexist Work. Finally," 17 Sep. 2020 In the year 2003 alone, the company sold $2.5 billion worth of its deadly snake oil. Libby Watson, The New Republic, "The Deadly Coronavirus Vaccine Gold Rush," 7 Aug. 2020 The chaos of a pandemic is ripe territory for snake oil salesmen. Sy Mukherjee, Fortune, "3 lies and a truth about face masks during the coronavirus pandemic," 30 June 2020 State laws against the corporate practice of medicine date as far back as the 19th century, as doctors strove to distinguish themselves from quacks and snake oil salesmen. Isaac Arnsdorf, ProPublica, "How Rich Investors, Not Doctors, Profit From Marking Up ER Bills," 12 June 2020 The issue is not overcharging for golf carts or using presidential briefings to sell snake oil. Hari Kunzru, The New York Review of Books, "Democracy’s Red Line," 4 June 2020 Updating the host line in your Caddyfile from :80 to localhost and then doing caddy reload gets you an automatic snake oil certificate issued. Jim Salter, Ars Technica, "Caddy offers TLS, HTTPS, and more in one dependency-free Go Web server," 6 May 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'snake oil.' 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 snake oil

1917, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Time Traveler for snake oil

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The first known use of snake oil was in 1917

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Statistics for snake oil

Last Updated

19 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Snake oil.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for snake oil

snake oil


English Language Learners Definition of snake oil

chiefly US, informal + disapproving : something that is sold as medicine but that is not really useful or helpful in any way

snake oil


Medical Definition of snake oil

: any of various substances or mixtures sold (as by a traveling medicine show) as medicine usually without having had the claims of their medical worth or properties substantiated by scientific tests

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