S is for Snake Oil

November 4, 2012

Snake oil is the derogatory description of fraudulent or unproven medical practices that have no value.

The term “snake oil” is used metaphorically to refer to a fraudulent or ineffective product or remedy that is marketed with exaggerated or false claims. It originates from a historical context where actual snake oil was sold as a medicinal cure-all in the 19th century, particularly in the United States.

During the 1800s, itinerant salesmen often referred to as “snake oil salesmen” would travel around selling potions or liniments made from the fat of Chinese water snakes, claiming they possessed miraculous healing properties. These products were marketed as a remedy for various ailments, including joint pain, inflammation, and even impotence. However, many of these products were ineffective or contained minimal active ingredients.

The term “snake oil” has since become synonymous with deceptive marketing practices and ineffective or fraudulent products. It is often used to describe products or treatments that make exaggerated or unsubstantiated claims of effectiveness, targeting vulnerable consumers seeking quick fixes or miracle cures. In modern usage, “snake oil” is used metaphorically to criticize dubious or pseudoscientific remedies or products that lack scientific evidence or have been disproven.


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