He was more than a mere barber but a false doctor.

From this sentence, the quality or occupation of the person is not clear to me. Please explain someone.

  • 2
    What is the source of this text? Sep 23, 2019 at 18:00
  • 1
    Welcome to ELL! Please share what research you have already done, and what you found that confused you. The word "barber" has an interesting definition in the dictionary that might surprise you. After reading it, what do you think the answer might be? (To improve your question, use the Edit button on your question and add details, please.) Please read the "Contributor's Guide to ELL" and Details Please. Keep contributing and welcome! Sep 24, 2019 at 9:38
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    @whiskeychief - Good advice, but the "Welcome!" part of your comment rings a bit odd, seeing that this question was asked in 2015 and the OP has not logged in for almost 11 months.
    – J.R.
    Sep 24, 2019 at 15:45
  • Interesting.. the question has both a close vote and an open bounty. I’ll head over to Meta to discuss. Sep 25, 2019 at 10:15

2 Answers 2


I think the accepted answer here is actually incorrect. It seems much more likely that this quote is referring to the fact that barbers commonly practised medicine in the middle ages: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barber_surgeon.

So the sentence would indicate to me that the person in question has more medical knowledge than a "mere" barber would have, where they would probably only be capable of leeching and butchery (very basic surgery). However, they are also a "false doctor" which implies that they haven't had sufficient medical training to be a fully-fledged doctor.

In summary, this probably means the person in question is passing themselves off as a doctor, has more medical knowledge than a "mere barber" would, but is still not sufficiently trained to be called a "true doctor".

So as a bonus I went hunting for this text, and I think I found it on a Bangladesh English Language exam question. The full text is actually:

Once there lived a shrewd barber in a village.

He was more than a mere barber.

But he was a false doctor.

The barber pretended to know all about diseases and their cures.

  • You explained this really well.
    – AIQ
    Sep 24, 2019 at 17:59

Is it the grammar/wording of the sentence that is confusing, or a specific word? I would rewrite the sentence like this:

Not only is he a mere barber, but he is also a false doctor.

By calling him a "mere barber" the writer is implying that being a barber is not a very important or interesting job. Then, the writer contrasts this boring simple job with also being a "false doctor", which is far more interesting. "False doctor" either means he pretends to be a doctor when he isn't, or more likely, that he really is a doctor, but the writer disagrees with his methods and/or teachings.

  • This answer overlooks the facts mentioned in the answer by @Richard Hansell. The usage in the question is not current, and I suspect it comes from an old text or something describing a historic situation. Sep 23, 2019 at 17:59
  • I think you misunderstand the meaning of "mere". The word means "no more than". So for example calling someone "a mere barber" does not mean that barbers are "mere". It means that he is no more than a barber. You're much closer with "false doctor". The whole sentence means "He is more than a barber but less than a doctor."
    – David42
    Sep 24, 2019 at 14:29

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