• ersatz •
Pronunciation: er-sahts, êr-sahts • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Being an inferior substitute. 2. Not real or genuine, fake.
Notes: Today's Good word in German was Ersatz "replacement, substitute". Although it has been in the English language since the 19th century, it became very popular during World War II, when Americans consumed a lot of ersatz coffee, ersatz butter (margarine), and used ersatz tobacco. This word sounds too foreign to have been Anglicized, so it has no derivational family.
In Play: This word has spun off several figurative usages from its original literal reference to fakeness: "Rodney is still drinking that ersatz 'coffee' made from chicory." Here is an example of its abstract applications: "She answered the question about her age with an ersatz smile."
Word History: Ersatz is the German noun for ersetzen "to replace, substitute" from Old German irsezzen, composed of ir-, an unaccented variant of ur- "out-" + sezzan "to set". The prefix ur- comes from Proto-Indo-European ud "out", the same origin as that of English out, Modern German aus "out" and Dutch uit "out". Old German sezzen comes from PIE sed- "sit", as do English sit, set, and seat. A lot of English words are based on borrowings from the Latin version of the same PIE word, sedere "to sit", including séance (a sitting), sedentary, and all words ending in -sess: obsess, possess, and assess. (It's high time we offer Jackie Strauss some genuine, non-ersatz gratitude for sharing today's Good Word with us.)