Ersatz

Ersatz

[er-zahts, -sahts, er-zahts, -sahts]
Ersatz is a German word literally meaning substitute or replacement. Although it is used as an adjective in English, Ersatz can function in German only as a noun on its own, or as a part in compound nouns such as Ersatzteile (spare parts) or Ersatzspieler (substitute player). While the English term often implies that the substitution is of unsatisfactory or inferior quality, this connotation does not necessarily exist in the German context. For example, "Ersatzbutter" or "Butter-Ersatz" could be used as a generic term for margarine as a substitute for butter.

In English, "ersatz" arose as a pejorative adjective from the experiences of thousands of U.S., British, and other English-speaking combat personnel, primarily airmen, who were captured in the European Theater of Operations during World War II. These Allied Kriegsgefangene (prisoners of war) were served Ersatzkaffee (replacement coffee) by their German captors, who had no real coffee to offer them. Needless to say, this substitute drink (a Getreidekaffee or "grain coffee") was not popular with the POWs, who longed for the real thing.

As to why Ersatz is a noun only in German but an adjective in English, the explanation is the German language's greater propensity for building new words out of existing ones by combining nouns. In the case of Ersatzkaffee, the latter two syllables were recognizably "coffee" to English-speaking ears so the first half of this word was logically but mistakenly assumed to be an adjective, when it is in fact the first half of a single German word. In this way, "ersatz" came to be an English adjective connoting something inferior if not entirely phony, as when one thing masquerades for another.

Historical context

The term ersatz probably gained international attention during World War I, when Allied fleets cut off all sea transports to Germany, forcing Germany to develop substitutes for products like chemical compounds and provisions. Ersatz products developed during this time included: synthetic rubber (buna produced from oil), benzene for heating oil (coal gas), tea composed of ground raspberry leaves or catnip, and coffee, using roasted beans, which were not coffee beans. Though a similar situation arose in Germany during World War II, this connotation with the term ersatz has sunk into oblivion in present Germany.

Another example of the word's usage in Germany exists in the German naval construction programs of the beginning of the 20th century. In this context the phrasing "Ersatz (shipname)" indicates that a new, larger, or more capable ship was a replacement for an aging or lost previous vessel. Because German practice was not to reveal the name of a new ship until its launch, this meant that the vessel was known by its "Ersatz (shipname)" throughout its construction. At the end of World War I the last three ships of the planned Mackensen class battlecruisers were redesigned and initially known simply as the Ersatz Yorck class, since the first ship was considered to be a replacement for the lost armored cruiser, Yorck.

Ersatz capitalism

Relating to the scholarly work of Kunio Yoshihara, ersatz capitalism refers to the early rising economies of East Asia and their dynamic and technologically intensive development. Yoshihara's definition classifies Japanese, South Korean and Taiwanese nations' capitalist drives as what might be called "pseudo capitalism." This refers to such government and business actors' abilities to utilize a nation's comparative advantages and artificially motivate an economy toward higher-end economic activities, specifically similar to those of developed Western nations, including areas such as capital investments and technologically intensive production.

Search another word or see Ersatzon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2014 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature