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As a native German I know some well-known uses of German phrases, but I was astonished that a book from a British reporter I am reading today used "ersatz" without explanation.

Is the word "ersatz" well-known in anglo-saxon countries ? What is the connotation of "ersatz": Do you use it more humorously or more in earnest. From the context it is not clear what connotation it has, how would you use it and how do you understand it ?

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closed as general reference by onomatomaniak, tchrist, FumbleFingers, aedia λ, MετάEd Apr 26 '13 at 3:35

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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Most Americans encounter the word only in writing, and only as a historic reference from World War II, where Allied propaganda paid considerable attention to German shortages toward the end of the war. It would be interesting to find out how English speakers who read the word would pronounce it. Few, I think, would sound like the German pronunciation; like the pronunciation of Goethe St in Chicago. –  John Lawler Apr 20 '13 at 17:16
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It is easy to find people who don’t know particular words; that says nothing. Ersatz just means bogus, but in a different register. –  tchrist Apr 20 '13 at 17:27
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It's featured prominently in the book The Ersatz Elevator by Lemony Snicket, with the meaning of false, phony, or bogus. –  KitFox Apr 20 '13 at 17:29
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I tend to think of ersatz in the context of makeshift substitutes for things- We were broken down in the middle of the desert but were able to get out using our ersatz fan belt made from pantyhose and duct tape. (Don't ask me why we had pantyhose along.) –  Jim Apr 20 '13 at 17:31
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@Jim: Ah, the German meaning is fairly neutral like "substitute". So "ersatz" means generally something which replaces the original with much lower quality ? –  user42902 Apr 20 '13 at 17:33

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

Yes, ersatz has a negative connotation in English. It is definitely in contemporary usage, as in referring to chicory as ersatz coffee, or aspartame as ersatz sugar. I use it in speech, though I cannot vouch for the rectitude of my pronunciation in German. But then again, I'm not speaking German. :-) I doubt that the word zeitgeist is pronounced in English as it is in German, either.

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Would have given the correct check for another answer, but there were only comments.... –  user42902 Apr 20 '13 at 21:25