Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wednesday Word: Ersatz

Today's Word is another one of those ones that I am embarrassed to admit that I thought meant the opposite of what it means. It's ersatz, and I think the z tricked me into thinking it meant something fancy, because it's akin to pizazz or ritz (and you can see why that's completely understandable, since all have z's).

Yeah, I have a master's degree in English. You can tell, right?

Ersatz is a German word that means a substitution or replacement, and I'm given to understand from Wikipedia (which everyone knows is correct, especially after you edit the entry yourself) that in English it infers a subar quality to the substitution. There's a good reason for this. Again according to Wikipedia, in WWII Nazi camps, POWs were served ersatzbrot, or replacement bread, which was made of the lowest grade flour, and sometimes included things like sawdust. Man, I'd be piisssssssssed if sawdust was in my ersatzbrot. But then again, I'd be pissed to be in a POW camp.

Ersatz products were not just for POWs and didn't always include nasty things. During WWII all over Europe, many people did without staples and therefore substitutes other materials for things, like roasting acorns for coffee.

Please forgive this bourgeois transition from the horrors and sufferings of WWII to my own petty (in comparison) desires, but I can tell you right now that I consider any cookie containing raisins to be an insulting ersatz for chocolate chip cookies. The reason is that raisins look like chocolate chips, especially from far away. Like from across the room where you've spied the cookies, only to be vastly disappointed when you hone in on them and find effing raisins instead of chocolate. Raisins are always an ersatz component of cookies. Always.

In writing, we know that adjectives and adverbs are ersatz descriptors, and we also know that telling is ersatz to showing.

So was it just me? Did you know this word? What else is ersatz?


Simon C. Larter said...

I believe I shall start referring to you as my ersatz nemesis. 'Course, this means I have to find another nemesis. Maybe Neil Gaiman or Jim Butcher. I'll ask 'em. :)

Linda G. said...

I did know this one (go, me!). Can't remember where I picked it up, though, because I only have an ersatz memory now, which doesn't function nearly as well as the original.

Oh, and while I love oatmeal raisin cookies (as long as I know going in what they are), I totally agree with your point about chocolate chip cookies. It's all about managing expectations.

Lt. Cccyxx said...

Not for nothing, but ersatzbrot beats nein brot!

This another word I kinda knew but would probably never have used without your post.

Jck said...

ersatz i tell you!

demery bader-saye said...

I'm with you in thinking it had something to do with fancy. It's the opposite of onomatopoeia... what's the word for that?

And - I'm so totally off now to make some chocolate chip cookies.

Tina Lynn said...

I'm like ersatz to a real blogger. Just sayin. And I'd be pissed if there was sawdust in ersatzbrot, too. You're so awesome.

Travener said...

Ja, ich habe diese Wort seit viele Jahre gut gekennt.

Anne R. Allen said...

One of my favorite words. We have so much that is ersatz in our culture. Like most of the food on supermarket shelves. And a whole news network...

Travener, I just visited another blog where you wrote in Italian. Now German. I'm awfully impressed.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Simon, whatevs, you're just super scared that I shall crush you.

Linda, agree about the memory.


Demery, good play using onomatopoeia in this correct instance! And please share the cookies.

Tina, love you!


Anne, I'm quite scared actually! who KNOWS what secret lovery things he is saying in other languages! (and totally agree about the food on our shelves. Anything processed...totally ersatz!)

Patty Blount said...

I still feel like an ersatz writer. But at least I now know what it means! Thanks.

abby mumford said...

i did not know this word, which is sad because i know words better than numbers. and if my numbers knowledge is ersatz'ing my word knowledge, we could all be in for a load of trouble.

and yes, i just made it a verb.

KLM said...

I didn't know I was going to have to know German in order to read your blog entries. Crap.

Ersatz is one of those words -- like so many others -- that I look up about once a year and then promptly forget the meaning of. Like erstwhile and pusillanimous.

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