Quacksalver & Quisling — A-to-Z Blog Challenge, Literary Terms

QSince I started this contest, this was the one letter I had been dreading. My usual resources turned up nothing and I had to be rather creative in using Q. I’m glad I found something, but I imagine my last 3 letters will be equally challenging.

Today I am doing Quacksalver and Quisling. Such weird terms, but then again, Q produces some weird sounding words.

I look forward to hearing from you on the bottom, as I want to know what you think.

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Quacksalver, also know as Quackery is defined as, the promotion of false and unproven health schemes for a profit. It is rooted in the traditions of the marketplace.

In discussing this today, I will not be going over what I think is false medicine. Rather, I will be going over the characteristics of someone who is considered a Quack, who offers false hopes to make a profit.

Quacksalver is a Dutch word, meaning “hawker of salve”. In the Middle Ages, quack meant shouting. This was derived from quacksalvers selling their goods in a market and shouting very loudly.

The key to Quackery is their aggressive promotion. What can be scary is if they believe that it will actually help, to which they don’t believe it is fraud. There is no element of greed or misinformation. However, if they know their product is bad, then it very much is fraud, greed, and misinformation on top of aggressive promotion.

The challenge for quackery, is how to differentiate between experimental medicine, protoscience, religious, and spiritual beliefs. To determine quackery, we must understand what is acceptable evidence for the efficacy and safety of a Quacksalvers claim.

There is a level of uncertainty with all medical treatment, and thus why pharmaceutical companies state the promise, risk and limitations of a medicine. Also requiring extensive testing under specific protocol that can researched. Doesn’t mean that things can’t still be fraudulent, but this procedure makes things harder.

As mentioned before, it is difficult to distinguish a Quacksalver of fraud. While they might be selling a bad product, proving they knew it was a bad product is difficult. Calling someone on being a Quack is not the same as Medical Fraud.

So what makes Quackery acceptable. It has been around a long time, and yet some people swear by non-traditional or exotic remedies to cure their suffering. Especially if it is proven to actually be ineffective?

1. Ignorance. Quacksalvers take advantage of people’s ignorance about medical treatments very alternatives. They themselves may also be ignorant. Now there are many alternative medicines that do work, but a Quacksalver will really try to push their product above the rest.

2. Placebo effect. This is a well known occurrence, in which a person convinces themselves that it will help them and believe they are getting better. The person might actually get better, as it may have been “all in the mind”.

Due to this phenomenon, pharmaceutical companies, when testing their new product, will have a group given a placebo to make sure the improvements they see is not a subject of mind over matter. This group of course don’t know it is a placebo.

3. Regression fallacy. Some ailments get better on their own. Doing nothing will result in getting better.

4. Distrust of conventional medicines. There is a wide range of reasons people choose to distrust conventional medicines, whether by the makers or distributors.

5. Conspiracy theories. Any element of trying to disprove the effectiveness of a treatment is often met with resistances on the claim that said agency is part of a conspiracy to cover the truth. So you will buy their product rather than the alternative.

6. Fear. The fear of side effects of surgery.

7. Cost. Cannot afford the treatment they need.

8. Desperation. People facing serious or fatal conditions will seek out all the alternatives to overcome injury and illness.

Like I said, there are many alternative treatments for ailments, but Quacksalvers can use the human condition against a person to make a sale. When making such a character, to offer a false hope of a bogus cure, we need to first understand, are they a believer or a charlatan? Rather, do they know it is fraud or are they a true believer.

If they are a believer, then it is difficult to convince them that what they are doing is wrong, and will likely strike back that your interest is self serving. Their conviction may come from some sort of witnessing of its curative property, or a long held family tradition. To many degrees, this type of character is not bad, simply misguided or misinformed.

If they know it is fraud, that what they are giving is a product of hope than an actual cure…this is a different kind of character all together. This is a charlatan, a person using pretense of deception to swindle people out of their money. They may be described as amoral or sociopath. They’re also known as Snake Oil Salesmen.

Using such a character in a story is a challenge. They might be a side character with one scene, so nothing really needs to be stated. They might also be a major character and you need to determine, are they believers or charlatans.


This is a trope named after Vidkun Quisling, who assisted the Nazis in the conquest of Norway during World War II. He was rewarded with controlling the Norwegian government himself. Since then has been used to refer to anyone who collaborates with the enemy for personal gain.

Of course, he wasn’t the first to do this, and history is filled with people betraying their country. But it is not simply just betraying ones country for personal favor, it is more that they become tool or resource for the new occupational force. He does everything he can to gain the invaders favor.

We see this behavior, not just in real life, but also in narrative. Generally a person who was friends with the hero of the story, and will try to get everyone to see that accepting the new ways is a best option for everyone. He may choose to do this right from the beginning, or wait until a time he can give information on a resistance.

Despite the Quisling hard work, the conquerors will never see him as an equal. They know that he betrayed his own kind… how trustworthy can he be?  He is a tool, a poster boy to convince people to accept the new regime, and afford him power to be more effective as his position. Note that generally the conquerors won’t hesitate to kill him if he out lives his usefulness.

The motives of a Quisling is often that he desires to make an occupation as painless as possible. Simply if people cooperate, then things will be better in a long run.

There is the possibility that him saying this, his true motives might actually be more self-serving, that he bows down to whomever is the strongest. A good example of this is Cheng during the paintball episodes of Community, where he kept changing sides, betraying in order to remain with the strongest contender.


Not the same episode, but still badass.

Sometimes, being a Quisling is simply a ruse. There are two notable examples of this.

The first is an episode of Duck Tales, where Ducksworth and the boys taken by space aliens that resemble vegetables. Ducksworth appears to surrender to them, and suggesting the boys do the same. Then he reveals that he had a plan to rebel, and surrender at first she they wouldn’t consider him a threat.


Another example is the reimagined of Battlestar Galactica, where Felix Gaeta on New Caprica continued to follow Baltar as a Presidential aide after the Cylons arrived. At first he appears to be a Quisling, until it is shown that he is using his position to help the resistance. But the resistance didn’t know what he was doing and very nearly died for it, given that no one believed him.


Then we look at the case of Gaius Baltar, who one might argue he didn’t have a choice. Then again, he often did things out of self-interest to begin with. Though he did have a gun pointed at his head when he refused to sign a list of civilians to be killed. I leave it up to the readers to determine if he was a true Quisling or not… more fun that way.


Quacksalver & Quisling

Cowards and Charlatans. Quite possibly the worst kinds of people. It’s one thing to be afraid and not want to fight, it’s another thing to betray you friends and family out of fear. It is understandable, but there are some lines we do not cross. The link here is the bad of the bad, the worst characteristics.

It is easier to accept the faults of our enemies, even come to respect them a bit. However, they tend to act exactly how we expect. Looking at the worse quality of both Quacksalver and Quisling, the people are very self-serving and not caring about the impact of their actions. So long as their bellies are warm and their purses are full.

It’s not even characters you love to hate, these are simply character you plain hate. Those that would love to do bad things to if given the chance. The kind of character that would sell their own mother if it meant a few coins. Anything to make money. It’s never enough. Whether it is a false promise of peace or a hokey cure.

When writing bad characters, it is easy the stereotype them. They’re just bad… what more do we need? A lot more. People aren’t just bad because that is what the universe decided. There is a reason they are. Sometimes it is due to an unfortunate circumstance, other times it is because that is how they were born. Whatever the reason, there is always more to their motive than simply they are bad and we don’t need to know anything else.

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