Wide view of Venice: Piazza San Marco - Riva degli Schiavoni

Charlatan in a Market Fair

by Jan de Velde - 1593-1641

Jan de Velde: "Charlatan in a Market Fair" - engraving (ca. 1603-1652)

Charlatanism is not an Italian only phenomenon, quite the opposite.

All over Europe existed these "market vendors", called Quack, Quacksalver or Mountebank , which reunited these "skills" to make money, sometimes in an illicit way.

And the Public Market, the place in which everybody reunited to buy goods, was the perfect location (even nowadays!) for proposing whatever you want to sell: Long Life Elixir, your skills as a dentist, whatever.

Charlatan is the English word for the Italian word ciarlatano, which has been widely recognized to come from ciarla (that means chatter, relentlessy talking) and cerretano.

Cerretano is somebody who is a native of this little village in the region of Umbria (Central Italy): Cerreto di Spoleto which, at the present time, has around 200 inhabitants, but it probably wasn't that big even then, all perched on the top of a hill as it is.

As things go, it must have been one guy coming from Cerreto, who was so powerful in hawking and quacking for selling his stuff, that the name stuck, and became history.

The term "Ciarlatano" was recognized as such in 1612 by the Accademia della Crusca, a reknowned institution for the use of the Italian Language.

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