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  This entry lacks etymological information. If you are familiar with the origin of this term, please add it to the page per etymology instructions, or discuss it at the Etymology scriptorium.
Particularly: “Some sources derive it from Seneca oil rather than from snake.”


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snake oil (uncountable)

  1. (idiomatic) A fraudulent, ineffective potion or nostrum; panacea.
  2. A traditional Chinese medicine used to treat joint pain.
  3. A type of 19th-century patent medicine sold in the United States that claimed to contain snake fat, supposedly a Native American remedy for various ailments.
  4. (idiomatic) Any product with exaggerated marketing but questionable or unverifiable quality.



snake oil (third-person singular simple present snake oils, present participle snake oiling, simple past and past participle snake oiled)

  1. (slang) To dupe or con.
    • 1995, Nancy Owen Nelson (ed.), Private Voices, Public Lives:
      And this is particularly so for many of our women students who have been hustled and snake-oiled to deny the validity of their intellects.
    • 2013, Thomas Pynchon, Bleeding Edge, Vintage 2014, p. 23:
      Before she had a chance to deal with her hangover, he was on the phone snake-oiling her into the first of what would be many ill-fated fraud cases.