We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Charlatan?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
PublicPeople is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At PublicPeople, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Charlatan is an English loanword from French, which translates to a "seller of medicines." On further investigation it appears the French word may derive from an Italian term ciarlare which means fast-talking or prattling. A charlatan in the English sense is not merely a seller of medicines, but a seller of worthless medicines, who bases his/her claims to the efficacy of such medicine on untruthful claims or pseudoscience. Synonyms for the word charlatan include snake oil salesman, mountebank and quack.

Records of charlatan activity date back to the early 17th century. A particularly famous Parisian charlatan was Tabarin. He would set up elaborate shows, plays and pantomimes in order to hawk worthless medicines. Such shows functioned not only as way for charlatans to sell their wares, but also gave entertainment to the people. They often attracted crowds, and a few people in the crowds might be “planted,” working for the quack to make false claims about how miraculous a specific product was.

Charlatans in the New World were common indeed. Traveling salesmen, especially as the frontier expanded would move from settlement to settlement and with excellent skills as orators, would sell various cure all medications. A few sales pitches were so believable that people purchasing the product might find symptoms improving through the placebo effect. Good charlatans made their profits and quickly moved on, to avoid being thrown out of town for selling medicines that didn’t work.

In modern times, the term charlatan takes on different connotations and refers to quack medicine in general. It may be a derogatory term leveled at those who practice alternative medicines, by those who take a traditional western approach to medicine. It can also refer to anyone who poses as medical personnel. For instance, the rise in charlatans in the plastic surgery world has been worth noting. People without real medical skills may offer Botox injections or others, usually not the real medicine, at very low prices, to take advantage of those who cannot afford to see a licensed physician for such treatments.

The traditional charlatan, the smooth talking salesperson, hasn’t disappeared completely. Yet now the standard medium for such a person is infomercials. It would be hard to accurately gauge the number of products sold by infomercials that have exaggerated claims and prey on people most in need of help. Sheer number of weight loss formulas, acne prevention, anti-aging creams, and a host of other products are difficult to count.

Physicians may occasionally endorse these products, but more often products are presented as effective by people who look like physicians, perhaps people wearing lab coats. Hour long programs are devoted to the latest cure-all, and appear to be leaning on legitimate science. It can be difficult to read the fine print on such commercials, such as those for weight loss products that work “when combined with diet and exercise.” The increase in infomercials for medical products has turned quackery into an industry, with many charlatans who are excellent at acting, and ready to sell the next useless product.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a PublicPeople contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a PublicPeople contributor, Tricia...
Learn more
PublicPeople, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

PublicPeople, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.