ratchet

1
[ rach-it ]
/ ˈrætʃ ɪt /

noun

a toothed bar with which a pawl engages.
(not in technical use) a pawl or the like used with a ratchet or ratchet wheel.
a mechanism consisting of such a bar or wheel with the pawl.
a steady progression up or down: the upward ratchet of oil prices.

verb (used with or without object)

to move by degrees (often followed by up or down): to ratchet prices up; Interest rates have been ratcheting downward.

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Origin of ratchet

1
1650–60; alteration of French rochet;Middle French rocquet a blunt lance-head <Germanic

Definition for ratchet (2 of 2)

ratchet2
[ rach-it ]
/ ˈrætʃ ɪt /

adjective Slang.

flashy, unrefined, etc.; low-class: ratchet girls wearing too much makeup.
exhibiting or affirming low-class traits in a way that is considered authentic: Better to stay a ratchet bitch than become a bougie poser like her.
extremely good; awesome.
Also ratched [racht] /rætʃt/ .

Origin of ratchet

2
First recorded in 1990–95; from a dance and genre of hip-hop music originating in Shreveport, Louisiana

OTHER WORDS FROM ratchet

ratch·et·ness, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

ABOUT THIS WORD

What else does ratchet mean?

Ratchet is a slang term that can mean “exciting” or “excellent,” often used as a term of empowerment among women. Some may also use ratchet for when they are feeling “bad” in some way.

The term has been previously used, however, as an insult characterizing a woman as being “overdramatic” or “promiscuous.”

Where did the term ratchet come from?

Ratchet may have originated in Shreveport, Louisiana, lovingly nicknamed Ratchet City. Rappers from there were using ratchet in songs since the late 1990s, based on a regional pronunciation of wretched. Another theory for its origin is that ratchet comes from ratchet up, or “bringing something up in intensity.”

Calling someone ratchet has historically meant you think they have no class and lack a proper upbringing but they don’t know it (e.g., trashy). It was especially used for a woman considered promiscuous or trashy.

Ratchet was notably used by Rapper Lil Boosie in his 2005 song “Do Da Ratchet.” In 2012, Nicki Minaj used it on her “Right By Side” as did Juicy J on his “Bandz a Make Her Dance” and LL Cool J on his “Ratchet”: “She’s so ratchet, she’s so ratchet / But she’s so bad we could throw cash at it.”

Many in the media called 2012 the year of the ratchet. They also noted that the hip-hop slang developed positive connotations, like cool or fierce.

Comedy duo Emmanuel and Phillip Hudson released a 2013 video titled “Ratchet Girl Anthem,” where the pair impersonate two, classless ratchet girls judging other ratchets. It has since had over 45 million views.

In 2018, Drake also released a song “Ratchet Happy Birthday” on Side B of his Scorpion album.

How to use the term ratchet

It’s important to note that ratchet, depending on user and context, can be considered sexist or racist. It can also be considered positive or ironic, especially when used by women of women.

Ratchet, as noted, was and still sometimes is used to insult women. It has been particularly slung at Black women considered uneducated and whorish, accused of doing things like “hitting the club when pregnant.”

Ratchet can be used like the slang ghetto, a term which can slur Black people.

Ratchet women persisted as a stereotype in the 2010s. Her style featured overdone eyebrows, long fingernails, conspicuously fake weaves, gaudy jewelry, and twerking. Pop star Miley Cyrus was accused of appropriating minority ratchet culture in 2013.

But ratchet (as has ghetto) has been experiencing something of a reclamation. Beyoncé and Lady Gaga, for instance, wore earrings with the word ratchet gilded in gold. Where the word isn’t becoming empowered, it is becoming “exciting,” used like lit.

And so, someone women may use ratchet of themselves to mean “excellent.” They may also use it in a more self-deprecating manner when they are feeling crummy, unappealing, or down in some way.

More examples of ratchet:

“Many Teen Mom 2 fans were upset after Kailyn Lowry made a low-key racist move when she described her co-star Briana DeJesus as “ratchet” during a heated argument this season, which is a slang term that has a racially-charged meaning. Now, Bri’s sister Brittany DeJesus is calling Kail out and explaining why it’s prejudiced for someone to use the term “ratchet” to describe a woman of color.”
—Emma Hernandez, In Touch, May 2018

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

Example sentences from the Web for ratchet

British Dictionary definitions for ratchet

ratchet
/ (ˈrætʃɪt) /

noun

a device in which a toothed rack or wheel is engaged by a pawl to permit motion in one direction only
the toothed rack or wheel forming part of such a device

verb

to operate using a ratchet
(usually foll by up or down) to increase or decrease, esp irreversiblyelectricity prices will ratchet up this year; Hitchcock ratchets up the tension once again

Word Origin for ratchet

C17: from French rochet, from Old French rocquet blunt head of a lance, of Germanic origin: compare Old High German rocko distaff
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012