He’s been called “a major threat to public health,” “a huge danger to public health,” a “scam artist,” and “a deplorable pseudoscience advocate.” He is Mehmet Oz, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon and one-time Oprah regular, and he is the Republican candidate for U.S. senator from Pennsylvania (although his principal residence is in New Jersey).
In some quarters, Oz is awarded a more succinct dishonorific: quack.
Not just any quack. America’s quack. https://t.co/z8zX9myVvx— David Gorski, MD, PhD (@gorskon) September 26, 2022
Mehmet Oz is a quack, a creep, and a carpetbagging conman.— BrooklynDad_Defiant!☮️ (@mmpadellan) September 30, 2022
Dr. Oz was a well respected surgeon. That was before Oprah promoted him and his TV show. Now most people think of him as a quack doctor, snake oil salesman, and carpetbagger. pic.twitter.com/7AmSqTbCmc— Robert (@VCPoliceScanner) September 30, 2022
A quack is a specific type of charlatan: “A person who dishonestly claims to have medical or surgical skill, or who advertises false or fake remedies; a medical impostor” (OED). The part of the definition that applies to Oz is the “false or fake remedies” charge. “Oz has promoted everything from raspberry ketones, berry-red pills promising to melt excess fat, to hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug falsely touted by former President Donald Trump and the right-wing as a COVID-19 miracle cure,” HuffPost reported in December 2021.
Dr. Oz: The Good Life was published by Hearst Magazines from 2014 to 2021, first as a bimonthly and later as a quarterly. Many issues promoted a “lose 10 pounds” diet. Oz has also touted the “miracle” of green coffee extract, which led MSNBC columnist Hayes Brown to declare that if he wins, Oz would be “one of many quack physicians in the Senate’s history.”
Quack has been around in English since the mid-17th century; it’s a truncation of quacksalver, which is about a hundred years older. Both words’ origins are early modern Dutch: kwakzalver, in which zalver means a person who cures with ointments (or salves). The kwak part is of less certain provenance. It may come from Dutch kwak (scrap, remainder, rubbish) or from kwaken (to squawk, chatter, or boast—this form is related to what-the-duck-says).
In modern times, Dr. Stephen Barrett, M.D., has directed a network of web sites and mailing lists devoted to exposing medical fraud. He launched Quackwatch.org in 1996l it’s currently maintained by the Center for Inquiry (CFI). Quackwatch and related sites “focus on health frauds, myths, fads, fallacies, and misconduct.”
And I am obliged to tell you that there is a cryptocurrency called “RichQuack” (motto: “In QUACK We Trust.”) Here’s how the website describes it: “a Hyper-deflationary Token with Real Utility. Blockchain Incubator & Launch Ecosystem to help Build your Next-Gen Projects to life.” I don’t understand three-quarters of that, I don’t know why so many words are capitalized, and I can’t tell whether the “quack” part of the name is ironic or transparent.
“Unreality Check,” my November 2016 column for Vocabulary.com about words related to fraud, grift, and the post-truth world.