If you are like me, the phrase counterfeit toothpaste looks a little odd in the headlines today. Money is usually counterfeit but paintings are forged, not counterfeit. That is probably because of the secret admiration we have for art forgers—they do have artistic talent. So we have different words for fakery depending on the degree of our dislike of a particular type of fake.
As I thought about it, synonyms for counterfeit began to accumulate in my mind; fake, bogus, forged, false, phony, fraudulent, sham, simulated, ersatz are probably just the ones on top.
We even have different words for many counterfeit, forged, and fake objects. Counterfeit hair, for example, is called a wig or a toupee and no one blinks an eye at it. Counterfeit teeth are less common than before but we admit that they are false.
Counterfeit, you might complain, implies deception. True. That is probably why counterfeit crab meat is now spelled krab—to make sure everyone knows that it is not crab meat but fish cleverly shaped and colored for people whose minds ignore their taste buds. However, wigs and false teeth involve deception—harmless deception but deception.
Does anyone remember ersatz coffee? Looks and tastes like coffee, again, if your taste buds are not on speaking terms with your brain. Counterfeit smoke, which can be added to any dish in liquid form, relies on the same disconnect.
Still, counterfeit toothpaste sounds a little odd to me. Counterfeiting money requires more complexity, artistic skill, and inside information than producing bogus toothpaste. Fraudulent, mislabeled, phony strike me as more accurate epithets.