General English


  • noun a doctor. This usually lightheartedly pejorative term originated in the 17th century when it referred to a peddler of spurious cures. It is a shortening of ‘quacksalver’ which is composed of ‘quack’ (give one’s verbal ‘patter’) and ‘salve’ (save, soothe or cure), and is a pun on ‘quicksilver’.

Origin & History of “quack”

English has two words quack. The one denoting the call of a duck (17th c.) originated of course as an imitation of the sound itself. Quack ‘person claiming to be a doctor’ (17th c.) is short for an earlier quacksalver, which etymologically denoted ‘someone who prattles on or boasts about the efficacy of his remedies’. It was borrowed from early modern Dutch quacksalver, a compound formed from the now obsolete quacken ‘chatter, prattle’ and salf, the Dutch relative of English salve.