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Dec 1, 2015
This week’s theme
Illustrated words

This week’s words
gramarye
quacksalver
viridity
yobbery
xenophile

quacksalver
Illustration: Leah Palmer Preiss

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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

quacksalver

PRONUNCIATION:
(KWAK-sal-vuhr)

MEANING:
noun: A quack: one pretending to have skills or knowledge, especially in medicine.

ETYMOLOGY:
From obsolete Dutch (now kwakzalver), from quack (boast) + salve (ointment). Earliest documented use: 1579.

NOTES:
Did the quacksalver hawk their concoctions of quicksilver (mercury) as a panacea to earn the name quacksalver? While the connection with quicksilver is enticing, it’s their duck-like behavior while peddling the snake oil that gave us this colorful synonym for a charlatan. Imagine someone mounted on a bench, holding vials of solutions in assorted colors while claiming to cure everything from chronic back pain to pyorrhea to migraine, and you’d have a good idea of a quacksalver. In fact, this image is the source of another term for these cure-alls: mountebank.

USAGE:
“In Elizabethan times nutmeg ... was trumpeted by the physicians and quacksalvers as a sovereign remedy against the plague.”
Charles Nicholl; Scary Tales of an Old Spice World; The Independent (London, UK); Feb 20, 1999.

See more usage examples of quacksalver in Vocabulary.com’s dictionary.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam; I looked into the soul of the boy sitting next to me. -Woody Allen, author, actor, and filmmaker (b. 1 Dec 1935)

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