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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Quack! Part 2

Yesterday's post got me to thinking about the word "quack." Where did it come from? I couldn't see any relation at all to the noise a duck makes. Here's the etymology:

quack (n.)
"medical charlatan," 1638, short for quacksalver (1579), from Du. kwaksalver, lit. "hawker of salve," from M.Du. quacken "to brag, boast," lit. "to croak" (see quack (v.)) + zalf "salve." Cf. Ger. Quacksalber, Dan. kvaksalver, Swed. kvacksalvare.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2001 Douglas Harper

I guess a continual boasting is a bit like a quacking duck afterall!

The old traveling medicine show with its "snake oil" salesmen is an enduring image from American culture, and for many years, in the early part of the last century, patent medicines were a staple in American families. Many, if not most, of these medicines were of dubious value! There are several interesting online exhibits of patent medicine. Two may be found at the Hagley Library, and at the National Museum of American History.

We mostly think of quacks in relation to impostors posing as medical doctors. Such a man was John R. Brinkley, the subject of Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam by Pope Brock [B BRI]. Our catalog summarizes Brinkley's career like this,
a controversial medical doctor who became wealthy by using goat glands to "cure" impotent men; and chronicles his relationship with Dr. Morris Fishbein, the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association who was determined to expose Brinkley as a fraud.

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