Word Smith: Ersatz

What is real and what is fake these days? Take emotions, for example. When are they imagined and when are they deep and abiding? Or love, when is it the ‘real McCoy’ and when a cheap imitation? Or news … We live in fast times, when few people take the hours to ponder what they see or feel or perceive or read. Any genuine article takes time to size up, evaluate, appreciate and measure. Yet in US culture today, we want it faster and that means now. Why wait?

The collateral impact of the cultural impatience is that things arrive superficially. With that speed comes the risk of phoniness, the likelihood of a cheap substitute for the real thing. Think of all the items of real value that take time to age and improve: cheese, wine, wisdom, wealth, work, antiques, and legacies.

Ersatz, whether pronounced ‘er-satz or ‘er-zats, is a great word that fits into the fierce rush to immediacy. How many circumstances can you think of where falseness became the substitute to truth, because of the rush to judgment?


1. (of a product) made or used as a substitute, typically an inferior one, for something else. example: “ersatz coffee”

2. Not the real thing, “ersatz emotions.”

synonyms: artificialsubstituteimitationsynthetic,

fakefalsefauxmocksimulated, unreal

When do we want a substitute master-piece and when do we want the real deal? When is it OK for a “stand-in” for a good meal? Is it acceptable to have fake Chamomile tea? Is it just as good to have the spokeswoman for the President? Is synthetic leather the way you want it to feel and to wear? Sometimes “Yes,” and sometimes “No way, hell NO!”

Times are changing, it may not feel like it, but there is always time to sit and think about what you really want: when is faux leather perfectly fine? (Another is simulated training, which can be as good, if not better than, the real thing? Think of flying.) When is fake money just as good as cash on the barrel head, or is it ever? Have you cashed out you Bitcoin yet? You will avoid that 25% correction, right? Think about it.