Ersatz means 'substituting for, and typically inferior in quality to', e.g. 'chicory is ersatz coffee'. It is a German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 word literally meaning substitute or replacement. Although it is used as an adjective in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

, Ersatz can only function in German as a noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

 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 ("not as good as the real thing"), it does not have this connotation in German. The German word for such product is Surrogat (surrogate
- Relationships :* Surrogate pregnancy, an arrangement for a woman to carry and give birth to a child who will be raised by others* Sex surrogate, in sexual therapy* Surrogate marriage, a custom in African culture- Economics :...


In English, "ersatz" arose as a pejorative
Pejoratives , including name slurs, are words or grammatical forms that connote negativity and express contempt or distaste. A term can be regarded as pejorative in some social groups but not in others, e.g., hacker is a term used for computer criminals as well as quick and clever computer experts...

 during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 because Ersatzbrot (replacement bread) was given frequently to the POWs, which was made of the lowest-grade flour, potato starch
Potato starch
Potato starch is starch extracted from potatoes. The cells of the root tubers of the potato plant contain starch grains . To extract the starch, the potatoes are crushed; the starch grains are released from the destroyed cells...

 and frequently intermixed with other extenders such as sawdust. This practice was prevalent on the Eastern front and at the many labor and death camps organized by the Nazi regime.

In Britain, this was additionally popularized as an adjective
In grammar, an adjective is a 'describing' word; the main syntactic role of which is to qualify a noun or noun phrase, giving more information about the object signified....

, 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
European Theater of Operations
The European Theater of Operations, United States Army was a United States Army formation which directed U.S. Army operations in parts of Europe from 1942 to 1945. It referred to Army Ground Forces, United States Army Air Forces, and Army Service Forces operations north of Italy and the...

 during World War II. These Allied Kriegsgefangene (prisoners of war) were served Ersatzkaffee (a coffee
Coffee is a brewed beverage with a dark,init brooo acidic flavor prepared from the roasted seeds of the coffee plant, colloquially called coffee beans. The beans are found in coffee cherries, which grow on trees cultivated in over 70 countries, primarily in equatorial Latin America, Southeast Asia,...

 substitute) by their German captors. This substitute drink (a Getreidekaffee or "grain coffee
Roasted grain beverage
A roasted grain beverage is a hot beverage made from one or more cereal grains roasted and commercially processed into crystal or powder form to be reconstituted later in hot water. The product is often marketed as a caffeine-free alternative to coffee and tea....

") was not popular with the POWs, who longed for the real beverage.

As to why Ersatz is only a noun in German but also an adjective in English, the explanation is that in the German language compound nouns are single words formed by gluing the constituent nouns together, while in English the constituents tend to remain separate words. In the case of Ersatzkaffee, in which the latter two syllables were recognizably "coffee" to English-speaking ears, this compound noun was anglicized by a calque
In linguistics, a calque or loan translation is a word or phrase borrowed from another language by literal, word-for-word or root-for-root translation.-Calque:...

 translation that retained the constituent Ersatz as a loanword
A loanword is a word borrowed from a donor language and incorporated into a recipient language. By contrast, a calque or loan translation is a related concept where the meaning or idiom is borrowed rather than the lexical item itself. The word loanword is itself a calque of the German Lehnwort,...

, resulting in "ersatz coffee". The first part was reinterpreted as an adjective. In this way, "ersatz" came to be an English adjective connoting an inferior substitute.

Historical context

The term ersatz probably gained international attention during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, when the Allied naval blockade of Germany
Blockade of Germany
The Blockade of Germany, or the Blockade of Europe, occurred from 1914-1919 and was a prolonged naval operation conducted by the Allied Powers during and after World War I in an effort to restrict the maritime supply of raw materials and foodstuffs to the Central Powers, which included Germany,...

 throttled maritime commerce with Germany, forcing Germany to develop substitutes for products like chemical compound
Chemical compound
A chemical compound is a pure chemical substance consisting of two or more different chemical elements that can be separated into simpler substances by chemical reactions. Chemical compounds have a unique and defined chemical structure; they consist of a fixed ratio of atoms that are held together...

s and provisions. Ersatz products developed during this time included: synthetic rubber
Synthetic rubber
Synthetic rubber is is any type of artificial elastomer, invariably a polymer. An elastomer is a material with the mechanical property that it can undergo much more elastic deformation under stress than most materials and still return to its previous size without permanent deformation...

 (produced from oil
Petroleum or crude oil is a naturally occurring, flammable liquid consisting of a complex mixture of hydrocarbons of various molecular weights and other liquid organic compounds, that are found in geologic formations beneath the Earth's surface. Petroleum is recovered mostly through oil drilling...

), benzene
Benzene is an organic chemical compound. It is composed of 6 carbon atoms in a ring, with 1 hydrogen atom attached to each carbon atom, with the molecular formula C6H6....

 for heating oil (coal gas), tea
Tea is an aromatic beverage prepared by adding cured leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant to hot water. The term also refers to the plant itself. After water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world...

 composed of ground raspberry
The raspberry or hindberry is the edible fruit of a multitude of plant species in the genus Rubus, most of which are in the subgenus Idaeobatus; the name also applies to these plants themselves...

 leaves or catnip, and coffee
Coffee substitute
Coffee substitutes are non-coffee products, usually without caffeine, that are used to imitate coffee. Coffee substitutes can be used for medical, economic and religious reasons, or simply because coffee is not readily available. Roasted grain beverages are common substitutes for coffee.In World...

, using roasted acorn
The acorn, or oak nut, is the nut of the oaks and their close relatives . It usually contains a single seed , enclosed in a tough, leathery shell, and borne in a cup-shaped cupule. Acorns vary from 1–6 cm long and 0.8–4 cm broad...

s or bean
Bean is a common name for large plant seeds of several genera of the family Fabaceae used for human food or animal feed....

s instead of coffee
Coffee is a brewed beverage with a dark,init brooo acidic flavor prepared from the roasted seeds of the coffee plant, colloquially called coffee beans. The beans are found in coffee cherries, which grow on trees cultivated in over 70 countries, primarily in equatorial Latin America, Southeast Asia,...

 beans. Though a similar situation arose in Germany during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, this connotation with the term ersatz has fallen into disuse in Germany.

Another example of the word's usage in Germany exists in the German naval
German Navy
The German Navy is the navy of Germany and is part of the unified Bundeswehr .The German Navy traces its roots back to the Imperial Fleet of the revolutionary era of 1848 – 52 and more directly to the Prussian Navy, which later evolved into the Northern German Federal Navy...

 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
Mackensen class battlecruiser
The Mackensen class was the last class of battlecruisers to be built by Germany in World War I. The class was to have comprised four ships: Mackensen, the name ship, Graf Spee, Prinz Eitel Friedrich, and Fürst Bismarck. None of the vessels were completed, as shipbuilding priorities were redirected...

Battlecruisers were large capital ships built in the first half of the 20th century. They were developed in the first decade of the century as the successor to the armoured cruiser, but their evolution was more closely linked to that of the dreadnought battleship...

s were redesigned and initially known simply as the Ersatz Yorck class
Ersatz Yorck class battlecruiser
The Ersatz Yorck class were a group of three battlecruisers ordered for the Imperial German Navy in April 1915. The name derived from the fact that the lead ship was intended as a replacement for the armored cruiser lost to mines in 1914. They were a slightly enlarged version of the , armed with ...

, since the first ship was considered to be a replacement for the lost armored cruiser
Armored cruiser
The armored cruiser was a type of warship of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like other types of cruiser, the armored cruiser was a long-range, independent warship, capable of defeating any ship apart from a battleship, and fast enough to outrun any battleships it encountered.The first...

SMS Yorck
SMS Yorck"SMS" stands for "Seiner Majestät Schiff", or "His Majesty's Ship" in German. was the second and final ship of the Roon-class of armored cruisers built for the German Imperial Navy. Yorck was named for Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg, a Prussian field marshal...

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.