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See also: quack-salver



A c. 1660 drawing of a quacksalver (or quack) holding a snake, by G. M. Mitelli of Bologna, Italy, from the collection of the Wellcome Library in London, England, UK

From Dutch quacksalver (a hawker of salve) (now spelt kwakzalver), derived from Middle Dutch quacsalven (noun or verb), from kwaken (to boast, to brag; to croak) + salve (ointment, salve) (modern Dutch zalf) + -er (agent noun suffix).



quacksalver (plural quacksalvers)

  1. (archaic) One falsely claiming to possess medical or other skills, especially one who dispenses potions, ointments, etc., supposedly having curative powers; a quack. [from c. 1570]
    • 1596, Thomas Nashe, Haue vvith You to Saffron-vvalden. Or, Gabriell Harueys Hunt is vp: Containing a Full Answere to the Eldest Sonne of the Halter-maker. Or, Nashe His Confutation of the Sinfull Doctor. The Mott or Posie, in stead of omne tulit punctum: pacis fiducia nunquam. As much to Say, as I Sayd I would Speake with Him, London: Printed at London by Iohn Danter, →OCLC; reprinted as John Payne Collier, editor, Have with You to Saffron-Walden: Or, Gabriell Harveys Hunt is up. [...] (Miscellaneous Tracts Temp. Eliz. & Jac. 1; 9), [London]: [s.n.], [1870], →OCLC, page 30:
      [F]ree me from thoſe outward encumbrances of cares that over-whelme mee, and let this paraliticke quackſalver fill ten thouſand tunnes with ſcelerata ſinapis, ſhrewiſh ſnappiſh muſtard, as Plautus calls it, []
    • 1710, Abraham Cowley, “Cutter of Coleman-Street”, in The Works of Mr. Abraham Cowley: In Two Volumes. Consisting of Those which were Formerly Printed; and Those which He Design’d for the Press; Publishd out of the Authors Original Copies. With The Cutter of Coleman-Street, 11th edition, volume II, London: Printed for J[acob] Tonson; and sold by D. Browne [et al.], →OCLC, act II, scene vii, page 832:
      Wid[ow]. Why, Man's Life is but a Flower, Mr. Jolly, and the Flower withers, and Man withers, as Mr. Knock-down obſerv'd laſt Sabbath-day at Evening Exerciſe: But, Neighbour, you're paſt the Flower, you've grown old as well as I— / Jol[ly]. I'the very Flower; that damn'd Quack-ſalver
    • 1822, [Walter Scott], chapter III, in Peveril of the Peak. [], volume IV, Edinburgh: [] Archibald Constable and Co.; London: Hurst, Robinson, and Co., →OCLC, page 63:
      "My fortune," said the Duke, "is too vast to be hurt by a petty wound; and I have, as thou knowest, a thousand salves in store for the scratches and scars which it sometimes receives in greasing my machinery." / "Your Grace does not mean Dr Wilderhead's powder of projection?" / "Pshaw! he is a quacksalver and mountebank."
    • 1910, Jeffrey Farnol, “Which Describes Sundry Happenings at the Fair, and Ends this First Book”, in The Broad Highway: A Romance of Kent, new and cheaper edition, London, Edinburgh: Sampson Low, Marston & Co. Ltd., →OCLC, book I, page 153:
      “I come before you, ladies and gentlemen, [] to introduce to you what I call my Elixir Anthropos— […]” [] [H]e listened intently to the quack-salver’s address, and from time to time his eyes would twinkle and his lips curve in an ironic smile.
    • 1927 October 2, “Town criers”, in The New York Times, page E8:
      One is reminded of a familiar figure of medieval fairs, who survived long in this country [England], and perhaps still survives in remote districts—the quacksalver who hawks his infallible remedies from a wagon.
    • 2012, Joseph P. Byrne, “Charlatans and Quacks”, in Encyclopedia of the Black Death, Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, →ISBN, page 70, column 1:
      Charlatans and quacksalvers treated the sick and dying and peddled medicines to keep one healthy but operated under no license to do so. [] Though often tarred as frauds, their methods often differed little from those of the professionals.

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