The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is ersatz. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.
What It Means
Ersatz describes a usually artificial and inferior substitute or imitation.
// Her snootier peers never forgave her for attending the gala in an ersatz mink coat.
ERSATZ in Context
“The old king whose rolling head got everything going wasn’t much of a monarch, just the type of ersatz ruler who crops up between the decline of one great kingdom and the rise of another.” — Salman Rushdie, The New Yorker, 5 Dec. 2022
Did You Know?
Evidence of ersatz in English dates to the middle of the 19th century, but the word didn’t come into prominence until World War I. Borrowed from German, where Ersatz is a noun meaning “substitute,” the word was frequently applied as an adjective to modify terms like coffee (made from acorns) and flour (made from potatoes)—ersatz products necessitated by the privations of war. By the time World War II came around, bringing with it a resurgence of ersatz products, ersatz was wholly entrenched in the language. Today, ersatz describes any substitute or imitation, especially when it’s inferior to the original.
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