- any of various liquid concoctions of questionable medical value sold as an all-purpose curative, especially by traveling hucksters.
- Slang. deceptive talk or actions; hooey; bunkum: The governor promised to lower taxes, but it was the same old snake oil.
Origin of snake oil
An Americanism dating back to 1925–30
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018
Examples from the Web for snake oil
Beware, too, of the snake-oil salesmen who promise permanently sharp knives.The 2012 Holiday Kitchen Gift Guide
December 13, 2012
Americans need protection from these snake-oil salesmen, and that protection depends almost entirely on Congress and the media.Leslie H. Gelb: The Dangers of Warmongering on Syria, Iran
Leslie H. Gelb
March 9, 2012
This is a country,” says Joe Wilson, “that welcomes the Elmer Gantrys and the snake-oil salesman.Does Anybody Still Like Karl Rove?
March 4, 2010
Such advisers are routinely dismissed by admission officers as snake-oil salesmen.Dirty Secrets of College Coaches
February 8, 2010
Idioms and Phrases with snake oil
see under banana oil.
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.