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?

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