Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Lost Allusions

I noticed the other night in Wright Morris's The Home Place

"Thinks I--" the old man said, "tube as heavy as that will last forever. Well, he says, it would if it was rubber, but it ain't rubber. What is it, says I? Airsuds, says he. What's that, says I? That's what it is if it ain't rubber, says he."
The term "airsuds" appears several more times in the book, and it left me baffled. When I looked back at the early pages, I understood: Ersatz.

The Home Place appeared in 1948, when the war and the German rearmament preceding it had made "ersatz" a familiar term. It may not have been familiar to old Nebraska farmers, but I suppose Morris could count on his readership knowing it, and recognizing it in its disguise of "airsuds". We baby boomers must know "ersatz" from the reading of history and literature, if at all. I wonder whether our children will recognize it.


  1. My mother's description of 'ersatz' coffee almost makes me hope our children won't

    1. About 30 years ago I went to an open house, where members of a local grocery cooperative had provided most of the food. Cookies that looked like chocolate were made with carob, and nothing as industrial as white sugar. Corn chips had no salt, and guacamole somehow no savor. While there are those who let ideology guide their shopping and cooking, the taste of ersatz will not disappear.