Printable Version
Pronunciation: shahr-lê-tên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A person who makes elaborate, showy but fraudulent pretenses to skills he does not have; a mountebank, a quack, a fraud, a faker.

Notes: This word comes from French and has remarkably preserved the French pronunciation of CH [sh] despite the remainder of the word having been converted to English. What a charlatan does may be called charlatanism or charlatanry. The practice of charlatanry may be described as charlatanic or charlatanical, though you must add the final suffix -al before you add the adverb ending -ly: charlatanically.

In Play: The basic meaning of this word implies deceptiveness: "Donald is a charlatan willing to do and say anything to keep himself in the spotlight." However, it may also imply fraud: "Some charlatans posing as roofers claimed to have repaired my roof, but the next time it rained the roof leaked worse than before."

Word History: Today's English word was taken wholesale from French charlatan "mountebank, babbler", borrowed from Italian ciarlatano "a quack" (CI in Italian = CH in English) from ciarlare "to prate, babble" from ciarla "chat, prattle" perhaps imitative of ducks' quacking. The Italian word might be a corruption of cerretano "inhabitant of Cerreto", a city in Italy once famous for its quacks. In this case it would have been heavily influenced by ciarla. (No charlatan himself, so we must thank Jeremy Busch for flushing out the spammers from the Agora over the years and for recommending today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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