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

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Posted in: For Laughs
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  • Omar Coston

    If you use the term ‘ratchet’ to refer to anything but a tool then you are the very definition of wretched from whence it came.

  • Gerard

    A ratchet is the handle, not the socket. Other types of attachments include breaker bars (long handles), speed handles (cranks) and universal joints.

    And it appears no one actually knows where the term “ratchet” as person came from.

  • incan

    Derived from word ‘wretched’ also could be from the character Ratchet nurse from movie ‘One flew over the Cuckoo’s nest’ who was nasty & wretched read somewhere. Correct me if I am wrong

  • Bonnie

    You used “To act in a dysfunctional, out-of-pocket manner” to describe the meaning of “ratchet.” I’m wondering if you meant “unavailable” when you used the phrase “out-of-pocket” and if so, why would that be related to “ratchet?” (Out-of-pocket does mean unavailable.) Thanks! Bonnie