A “salver” is just a glorified tray. The word comes from the Latin “salvare” which means to save something or to prove something is safe. In the Middle Ages, when one of the more popular ways to change a political system was to poison the king, some poor soul got the job of being the king’s lab rat, and had to taste the food before the king did. Once it was proven to be non-toxic, the food was placed on a silver tray and presented to the king. In Spanish, the test was known as a “salva” and in French the royally approved ceremonial tray was known as the “salver.” In English, we take the meaning one step further with “salve” which is an ointment which helps heal a wound, and so a “salver” is not only part of a safety measure, it is a thing (or a person) that can actually make you feel better. Okay?
Meanwhile, there’s a second word that comes from ancient Greece. Using a little onomatopoeia, the Greeks described the croaking of frogs as “koax”; the Romans verbified it to “coaxare,” to croak like a frog. By the time we got to Middle English, the word had become “quakke,” which meant to make a hoarse, croaking noise like a frog, or – enter a similarly loudmouthed pond denizen – to quack like a duck. From there it was pretty easy to turn “quakke” from a description of a noise into a derogatory word to describe a loudmouthed person. If you are an arrogant blowhard, in Swedish you might be called a “kvack,” in Dutch a “kwak,” and in good old English you’re just a “quack.”
But the fun part of language is taking words that have little to do with each other and slamming them together in new, and sometime ironic ways. For example, imagine if a man rolled into your town and parked his wagon in the village square. Let’s say he opened up one side to reveal all sorts of ointments, lotions, potions and elixirs. And then he jumped up on top of the wagon and started spouting off about how he could ease your pains, cure your disease, make you healthy and save your life! Would you believe him? Would you start buying what he’s selling? Or would you see through the crazy claims of this croaking con-man and describe him for what he is?
OK folks, what’s the colorful word for a “Medical Charlatan”?
You can look it up in Webster’s: “Quacksalver”
Which, of course, etymologically speaking, has absolutely nothing to do with the name of an advertising firm from New Jersey. (Even if those guys are marketing grifters.)
– Mike Keeler
Publisher’s Note: Mike Keeler is a principle at quickSilver – a marketing firm in the center of the Garden State, located just up the road from where 2400 men saved the United States.