Define That: Ratchet

Some new words have been popping up on my radar lately. Our generation is always updating words or creating new ones. Sometimes they even become officially recognized words by the dictionary! GIF was 2012′s word of the year!

Well, I’ve been hearing “ratchet” a lot lately. I’ve heard everything from “My hair looks so ratchet” to “This pasta is just plain ratchet” so even I’m confused as to which way we’re supposed to be using it!

This week let’s define ratchet and look at the evolution of the word.

Merriam-Webster defines it as:
1. Noun
- a mechanism that consists of a bar or wheel having inclined teeth into which a pawl drops so that motion can be imparted to the wheel or bar, governed, or prevented and that is used in a hand tool (as a wrench or screwdriver) to allow effective motion in one direction only

Basically, a ratchet is a socket wrench. So how did we get from socket wrench to “She’s so ratchet”? Obviously you’re not saying “She’s so socket wrench” because what does that even mean?

Of course, I went to the upstanding Urban Dictionary for some input. Here are my favorites definitions:

“A diva, mostly from urban cities and ghettos, that has reason to believe she is every man’s eye candy. Unfortunately, she’s wrong.”

“The term ‘ratchet’ has no less than two distinct meanings. As an adjective, it describes a person, usually a woman, or activity, who is out of hand, out of control, generally whack in some way. As a verb, or a direct object (“do tha ratchet, yeah, do tha ratchet…”), the term serves to identify or describe the dance craze–and the movements associated herewith– of the Ratchet.” (I know the Harlem Shake, I do not know the Ratchet.)

“To act in a dysfunctional or out-of-pocket manner; unruly; 2: Someone whose actions could be considered as severely indistinguishable; possessing little or no class.”

As a writer, I’m required to have knowledge of all words and their origins. I’m essentially the Bill Nye of words.

If I understand correctly, ratchet means wrench. I believe somewhere along the line, wrench was accidentally pronounced as wretched. Wretched means to appear miserable, mean or dejected. Wretched was pronounced instead as ratchet where it suddenly took on the connotation it has now. This is word science, people!

You can use ratchet to describe anything that’s messy, sloppy or rude. People can be ratchet, your room can be ratchet, your outfit can be ratchet.

Did you know what ratchet meant? How do you use it? What words would you like us to explain next? Tell me in the comments!

Selena Gomez is definitely NOT ratchet

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter!

Posted in: For Laughs
Tags: , , ,


  1. avatarJBW says:

    You got it half right. I don’t know where the mispronunciation of “wrench” fits in or makes sense. It’s just simply a mispronunciation of “wretched”. The same people that use it often describe a “ratchet girl” ass someone that wears torn “stalkings”.

  2. avatarStacey E. says:

    It would be nice if we stopped letting stupid people make up new words for everyone to use. “za” for example. Stupid. And of course, “ratchet”-meaning anything other than a device. Or putting “lol” next to anything nobody in their right mind would actually laugh out loud about. “I had waffles for breakfast…lol!” “I accidentally used 1 cup of sugar instead of 2!…lol!”
    I’m surrounded by idiots.

  3. avatarMatt says:

    The term came from Cedar Grove n the City of Shreveport Alabama.
    Popularized by the song, “Do Tha Ratchet”
    True origin was spun out of slurring the word WRETCHED
    Now has become a massively overused typo.

  4. avatarBecky says:

    It is a pure homonym that has nothing to do with a ratchet wrench, or “wretched.” It means RAT SHIT. “Rat chet” sounds less foolish than “rat shucks.” Therefore, “Her hair looks like rat shit,” &c.

  5. avatarJanet says:

    Ratchet as used to describe someone means nasty, ghetto or trifling.

  6. avatartheworld says:

    Please stop bolding random words

  7. avataracer says:

    Racheted is what I keep hearing peopl esay

  8. avatarScott Simpson says:

    The first time I asked someone for a definition for this slang, I was told it meant “A woman who’s only good for one thing — getting a nut off … like a ratchet.”

  9. avatarJames says:

    Cat, you might wish to check for yourself what the definition of ratchet is. You are incorrect in your assumption of what it means. Nyx is entirely correct in her explanation involving the ‘second’ definition of ratchet.

    It originated in the 17th century and is a lesser used meaning of the word that has evolved into a more contemporary meaning.

    • avatarCat says:

      Actually, I did look it up- in several different dictionaries, both online and in my own dictionaries, including the link you so kindly provided for me, before I posted. I was disagreeing with the part that pertains to low class or deteriorated, and all the other negative connotations, since the secondary definition states- 2. A situation or process that is perceived to be deteriorating OR changing steadily in a series of irreversible steps: ‘a one-way ratchet of expanding entitlements’. A steadily changing situation or process does not necessarily have to be deteriorating to be racheting. The first, and primary, definition of the word refers to a specific mechanism. And both of these definitions are only in its use as a noun, not as a verb. In the defintions of the word as a verb, there are no negative definitions that could remotely be construed to mean deteriorating or demeaning. Even in its 17th century origins, it still referred to tools, not a deterioration or a decline, and most certainly without any negative connotations.

      Nowhere have I seen that it should be applied to a person’s hair, clothing, etc., which is how I have, personally and frequently, heard this word used, mostly by teens and young people, as a way to denigrate, insult, or demean someone else. If the word is being applied to a person’s appearance or whatever, then I feel the word they are actually seeking is wretched, not rachet.

      Now, I well realize that, with a stretch, it could indeed apply to a person, since a noun is a person, place, or thing; however, consider this- if a person’s health is steadily declining, (or even improving), would it be appropriate to say, as I have heard applied to people, “he/she is so rachet!”? Yet, just using the second noun definition, it certainly could be applied to a person and his or her health, regardless of whether or not it should be. The current slang use of this word has a very nasty, biting undertone to it. The other comments in this thread alone support the connotations of being undesirable.

      I have heard my teen-aged granddaughter use this word in reference to her own hair, and she was completely unable to define it or explain what she meant by it. All she could say was, You know, grandma, it’s just rachet! Well, no, I obviously did not know, since when I hear this word, I think of a tool. (My dad was a carpenter, for heaven’s sake!). I certainly do not think of hair! This is what I, along with others, find so irritating about this particular word usage.

      I am sorry to disagree, and mean to cause no problem here, but I feel it is being used incorrectly in its current connotations, not necessarily in its established definitions. I also believe that I specified connotations in my previous post.

      If someone is going to use a word, they should at least know what it is SUPPOSED to mean, not just its current slang connotations.

      Have a lovely day, folks.

  10. avatarAdam Draughn says:

    OAbout 20yrs ago I somehow caught a nickname (ratchet) due to my ability to fix or repair nearly anything. I understood It’s relation to my daily work and eventually I got used to it. I was told by a college girl I should never be ratchet, it completely through me off and I was simply looking at this girl as if she was crazy. After a few online searches. I’ve figured it out but don’t understand it. Generation terminology. Is that a class?

  11. avatarmoi même says:

    Ratchets been around since the XVIII c. annoying people with their terrible racket, so less fortunate husbands soon started to call it to their ghastly wives

    The name was later used to refer to anything crude,ugly,clunky, that can only move in one (bad) direction winding up to screw you (like the wives and the tools)

    The expression acquired popularity and comes up occasionally That’s all

    They’re used to lock wrenches,fasteners, to hoist and hold gates and loads etc

  12. avatarJerry says:

    Ebonics takes over another word, Wretched, and kills it.

  13. avatarNyxoftheNight says:

    Actually, it’s a variant on the word. Ratchet also means a situation or process that is perceived to be deteriorating or changing steadily in a series of irreversible steps. It is used as a term for something low class or deteriorated. Similar to how we use the term ghetto. What you re seeing is simply the evolution of an existing, but little known, definition.

    • avatarcat says:

      Actually, it does NOT mean a definitively deteriorating situation or process, nor is such a process irreversible, unless you are referencing the slang term ratchid, which I have also seen.

      A ratchet consists of a toothed wheel, and a pivoting pawl or bar. Its function is to regulate the steady incremental increases or decreases of movement in an up/down- or backward/forward direction. A ratchet allows movement in only one direction; however, ratcheting screwdrivers and other ratcheting tools often have reverse ratcheting capability with a switch or knob; it is designed to make using such a tool easier and more efficient.

      Ratchet does not mean that a person is from one place or another; it does not mean that a person is somehow more or less real; it does not mean low/high class; it is not a compliment or an insult; it does not describe a person’s appearance or behavior. It is a noun- the name of a device-, and a verb – the action of the device. Therefore, those meanings are not the evolution a little-known definition, but very loose interpretations of the actual definitions of the word, otherwise known as connotations, which are subject to change from one decade to the next, or, for that matter, from one day to the next. Seems to me that this particular set of connotations are primarily negative. Unfortunate, because the ratchet is an extremely useful device.

      Have a lovely day, all!

  14. avatarLily Bear says:

    It is a derivation of the two words “rat” and “shit” as in the situation is, person is, place is so bad it is as bad or worse than “rat shit.” Totally trash talk.

  15. avatarcarlsjr says:

    I think its after nurse Ratched from one flew onver the cuckoos nest.

  16. avatarDefiantOne says:

    Do you have any source for the following excerpt, which is a list of enormous leaps. Are they presumptions? Guesses? Documented facts?

    If I understand correctly, ratchet means wrench. I believe somewhere along the line, wrench was accidentally pronounced as wretched. Wretched means to appear miserable, mean or dejected. Wretched was pronounced instead as ratchet where it suddenly took on the connotation it has now. This is word science, people!

  17. avatarBearzy says:

    Ratchid? Seriously? Are you going to call the amberlamps? Lmao.

  18. avatarLittleRedWolfGirl says:

    ‘Ratchet’ now means… I’ve got little hope for the future of the English language.

  19. avatarlollipop says:

    its not ratchet that people say its ratchid is what they say! two different words

  20. avatarselena says:

    Ratchet means : ghetto, stupid , rediculous , cheap

    “omg her hair is ratchet”
    “those shoes are ratchet”
    watch emanuel & philip hudsons she ratchet video

Leave Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.