Q From Tom: I would like to know the origin of the word quack, as in the fake doctor.
A It’s an abbreviation of an old Dutch word that in the modern language is spelled kwakzalver. It comes from quack, an early modern Dutch word meaning a person who chatters or prattles (probably connected to the English word for the noise a duck makes), and salf, essentially the same word as our salve. So a quacksalver was somebody who boasted about the virtues of his remedies, so it later became attached to a person who claimed to have miraculous medications. The longer form was common in the sixteenth century, but it was abbreviated later. The similarity of the full-length word to quicksilver, or mercury, and the once common use of that element in medicine (especially to treat diseases such as syphilis), falsely suggests a link with the name. But there’s no connection.
Search World Wide Words
Recently added or updated
Heliotrope; Ditty bag; E31; Old fogey; Ampersand; Phizzog; Horse creature; Get one’s goat; Mammock; Mx; Stepney; Vape; No names, no pack drill; Bridegroom; Lilly-low; The Language Myth by Vyvyan Evans; Boot and trunk; Zoilism; Fish-faced; Poach.
Support World Wide Words!
Donate via PayPal. Select your currency from the list and click Donate.
Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select your preferred site and click Go!