Monday, August 19, 2013


I was doing a cryptic crossword puzzle the other day and I had one clue left unsolved. The clue was "German sub." Finally, I caved and looked it up, with the help of Google.  The answer was Ersatz. It is defined as something inferior, a substitute for the real thing, such as artificial rubber or coffee made from grain.

The word originated in Germany during WW I, when the Germans started substituting poorly trained troops to bolster its depleting armies. The practice spread and the term was adopted by the allies to refer to everything that was watered down or laced with inferior materials, such as bread made with potato starch instead of flour from wheat, which was then augmented with saw dust. This concoction was often fed to the prisoners of war.

I can think of a lot of things that could be described as Ersatz. Certainly coffee is right up there. Most of us know who sells inferior coffee and avoid them like the plague. I remember years ago sleeping on the beach in Crete for a summer. Since we were all counting our pennies or drachma, we would drink Retsina at night.

Genetically engineered?

Retsina is a very cheap wine with a terrible taste, because it is fermented with resin. The story behind the resin goes like this. Apparently once when the Greeks heard that the Romans were about to invade their country, they decided to lace their wine with resin, so that their captors wouldn't enjoy it. Apparently, though, the invasion failed, the Greeks won and their reward was to drink their ersatz wine. Obviously they acquired a "taste" for it, because it is still available today, for those who can stand the taste!!

More and more we are being offered the "ersatz" of what was once a pure and rich commodity. We have modified food, factory farms, inferior education, synthetic fabrics, the list goes on....!!!

The more things are weakened, the more the bar is lowered and the more our original standards are eroded. There was a time, for example, when everyone was expected to use the conditional form of the verb "to be," when needed, as in "If I were a carpenter." Now it's just "If I was a carpenter." Small change, I agree, compared with genetically modified corn, but it's an example of accepting less, losing a little more, until there is nothing left of what was once truly wonderful.

I think that it's time to erase the ersatz in everything!!

My rant for the day

Have an ersatz-less day!!


  1. I don't get the German sub part, but I have another word I use for materials that are inferior. It comes from an actual description for low quality metal--pot-metal. I have found lots of pot-plastic. I just never thought about the fact that much of what we eat is pot-food. Yikes. Thanks for the discussion.

  2. Alert - pedantic comment - I wish I were is use of the subjunctive not conditional tense. The implication of wishfulness rather than conditional act. Okay off high horse now and creeping back under the slimey stone where all Billy No Mates live :)

  3. I think you have a valid rant, Carol. Although I think ersatz might be necessary for certain things (ie. gluten free bread - it certainly isn't as good as the original, but a lifesaver for those who can't eat the real thing), in general, it does lower the standard in many different ways. Interesting word!

  4. Thank you, Gillie, I changed it to reflect that. I was actually thinking, "If I were" and wrote "I wish I were."

    The brain mis-fires rather too often lately :)

  5. I totally agree. I don't do Ersatz. I prefer smaller quantities of the real thing...take butter for instance: I don't have margarine. Maybe we are becoming difficult...

  6. Wow! I never knew that was the genesis of the word ersatz... (It's among my favorite words, from way back when.)

  7. Ugh. Resin? That sounds poisonous or at least unhealthy. Well, as always I've learned more new stuff. :)