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Why are unqualified doctors called ‘Quacks’ ?

snake oil liniment



‘The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease’ – Voltaire


The word quack, meaning a charlatan, is an abbreviation of quack-salver, an old Dutch word used in the 17th century (spelled ‘kwakzalver’ in the modern Dutch).

Kwakzalver is used to mean, a fraud.

Quackersalver is a person who dishonestly claims knowledge of or skill in medicine; a peddler of false cures. The root of the word charlatan comes from Cerreto, a place in Italy widely known for quacks. The word soon evolved to mean a cheat.

To quack is to utter the characteristic harsh, croaking sound, like a duck; and hence secondarily, to talk noisily and to make vain and loud pretensions. And a salver is one who undertakes to perform cures by the application of ointments. Hence the term quack-salver.

The qualified Medical practitioners commonly used the word ‘quack’ to discredit anyone whom they disagreed with, especially the unqualified ones.

Quackery was at its peak in the 1700s in Europe especially in cities such as London and Paris as they had weak regulations against unqualified practitioners.

They made a fortune by taking advantage of people’s fears, especially during the plague and cholera epidemics. Quackery was a common profession during that period.


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