Daily Archives: November 15, 2008

ersatz

This word, to look at it, could be something spectacular or chintzy. There’s something of the lightning bolt in it, but that diamond twinkle, it seems, is Brummagem – not coruscating but coarse. The sound of satz is not an electric spark but mere air – and that coffee in your cup is, well, not. Indeed, coffee was once a particularly common collocation of ersatz, but now this word gets around rather widely – but always with a cheesy (Velveeta?) or cheating tone. The roughly synonymous spurious is like a sneaky, curious snake that spears you with its fangs from behind, but ersatz is more of a whoopee cushion, or a phonaesthesis for the taste in your mouth after eating a dry, overcooked turkey wiener. It makes out better in its native German, where it cleaves closer to the norm; there, it’s simply a word for “replacement” or “substitute.” But who in English would refer to a one-day fourth-grade fill-in as an ersatz teacher, or a ninth-inning mound step-up as an ersatz pitcher?