Social Question

NerdyKeith's avatar

Do you find the word "ratchet" offensive?

Asked by NerdyKeith (5464points) August 27th, 2018

Hey everyone, long time no see.

So anyway I was having a very interesting exchange with a YouTuber on Twitter. It ended with him pleading that I unfollow him, because I don’t agree with his opinion. Apparently it is cultural appropriation for a white guy to use the term “ratchet”.

What is your take on this?

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56 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

In what context did you use the word?

If you were describing a tool for tightening things so that they don’t release in reverse, or if you were describing incremental adjustments, i.e., “ratchet up interest rates” then there is no cultural issue.

If you were imitating Black vernacular’s mispronunciation of “wretched” then yes, you should not use it.

NerdyKeith's avatar

@zenvelo What if its not so much of an imitation but more of an adaption of a slang term. “I feel so ratchet today”

chyna's avatar

Going with @zenvelo‘s usage of the word, I would imagine the way you used it in a sentence meant you are “wound tight” and I don’t see the issue with using it in that way.

NerdyKeith's avatar

@Chyna, Good point. I got the impression from the YouTuber is question that he was finding it objectionable for it to be used at all.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Never heard of it as slang. I just think of a tool. And nurse Rachett, of course.
Send your youtuber person a video of a freakin’ ratchet!

Jeruba's avatar

What? No. It’s just a word. And except for legally protected trademarks and copyrights, people can’t own words.

https://www.dictionary.com/browse/ratchet

janbb's avatar

Is it a Black slang word? In the US or the UK? I haven’t heard it but I’m not always up on my slang.

If it is a Black slang word, I could see someone taking offense although I’m not terribly offended by cultural appropriation. If so, I’d have to get on my high horse every time someone said “nosh” or “putz” or “kibbitz.” Language is fluid and malleable.

Jeruba's avatar

How long before it’s cultural appropriation to say “gracias”—or “s’il vous plait” or “Gesundheit”? Egad, sometimes it seems like nuttiness is wider and more infinite than the universe.

Kardamom's avatar

I have never heard the word ratchett in any context except for the tool.

Is there a slang word “ratchett” that means something else?

NerdyKeith's avatar

@Kardamom Its slang for wretched

Dutchess_III's avatar

I would say it’s a slang word made up by some ignorant person who can’t read. They saw “ratchet” and didn’t know that word so they pronounced it “wretched.”

kritiper's avatar

“Ratchet” seems to be a play on words from “rat shit.”
I feel like (rat) shit today.

kritiper's avatar

“Ratchet may also be some form of local vernacular that the dummy who took offense didn’t realize or understand. I would ignore it, it being more of a personal thing.

Love_my_doggie's avatar

@kritiper “Ratchet” seems to be a play on words from “rat shit.”

I believe it’s a play on “wretched.”

@janbb Is it a Black slang word?

Yes, and I usually hear it in conjunction with the phrase “hood rat.” As in, “She’s a ratchet hood rat.” Personally, I don’t use either term.

Demosthenes's avatar

I tend to think “cultural appropriation” is largely BS and nonexistent. It’s more SJW crap from the crowd who makes being offended a hobby. So no, I don’t find it offensive. I agree that people shouldn’t mock or disrespect people’s cultures, but using slang isn’t doing that.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

There is no such thing as “cultural appropriation” in a country that is a melting pot. People may get aspects of culture horribly wrong but that does not mean the act itself is wrong.

filmfann's avatar

Never heard it. You sure it isn’t “rat shit”?

si3tech's avatar

OMG How is “ratchet” any kind of cultural appropriation? IMHO “cultural appropriation” is such a blatantly “politically correct” term in such a demented way. When we have clearly and obviously gone overboard it’s time to start with a clean slate.

kritiper's avatar

My most recent dictionary (2012 Merriam-Webster’s) does not list it as any type of offensive terminology.

janbb's avatar

@kritiper Speaking as a librarian, I have to say your standard dictionary from 2012 is probably not the right place to look for current Black slang.

Here’s what I found:

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=ratchet

Clearly not a usage that most Jellies have heard; live and learn. So the question becomes whether it is appropriate for a white guy to use black slang.

MrGrimm888's avatar

It’s a younger person’s slang. My nephew uses it. It’s an insult. I don’t put much value in words meant to insult, so I could care less. Words from someone online, would mean even less…

JLeslie's avatar

The only uses I know of is the expression “ratchet it up” or that a ratchet is an actual tool. If black people confuse it with wretched, which I’m not even sure what’s wrong with using the word wretched when appropriate, then are we saying I need to change using ratchet, because some black people are illiterate and don’t know the difference between the two words, because they sound similar? I know that sounds harsh, but really, I’m having a hard time with this one.

Usually, I say if something is offensive to a group we need to believe them, accept it, and do our best to change our behavior. However, this time it just seems a little over the top to me.

As far as cultural appropriation. Ugh, another thing I have trouble with. When I was little I had a beautiful blouse that looked Indian. Is it not ok to wear that? Many of my friends and I wear items that look very Eastern European (well some of us are Eastern European, but we are relying on American designers stealing from the other countries, does it not count because Warren Europe is white? Remember when the communist Russians were the big scary enemy?). Can white girls wear corn rows? Can non-Asian women wear a Geisha costume for Halloween? Have you ever been to Japan?! The teenagers and young women wear Halloween costumes all year! I’m against dressing in a way that people within the group wouldn’t dress, because they find it offensive, but if they dress like that, or use those words, then it must not be very offensive. You have to lead by example. If you don’t want the majority to do certain things, then as the minority I think stop doing it yourselves.

If someone who isn’t Jewish wants to walk around with a Star of David around their neck, have at it. The goyim already stole a whole mess of words and food from us Jews. I don’t mind at all. If you want to eat bagels and call your boss a schmuck, go ahead.

kritiper's avatar

@janbb
To say that a white person can’t use black slang is racist.
My dictionary covers all if not most offensive slang. Check out a copy!

MrGrimm888's avatar

It’s NOT black slang.

Soubresaut's avatar

“Cultural appropriation” is a connotatively neutral academic term. It’s neither inherently good nor bad. It’s a label for the phenomenon where humans from one culture or subculture (or group of some sort) adopt a cultural “artifact” from another culture or subculture (or group of some sort). I use the word “artifact” very loosely here. It doesn’t have to be something physical. Humans have been doing this for as long as we have existed. This transmission of knowledge, practices, technologies, arts, customs, words, style, etc. between groups is one of the reasons humans have been successful as a species. So it can be a positive, powerful thing in certain contexts.

But in other contexts, it can be negative. I’m certainly not the best person to explain the ways cultural appropriation goes wrong, but here’s my best attempt (it’s going to be very “high level”; if anyone wants examples or a more concrete explanation, there are tons of articles discussing it better, written by people with much more knowledge and authority on the topic than me)—

It’s negative when the appropriation stereotypes the culture or the people the “artifact” originated from; or when it trivializes that culture; or when it distorts or misrepresents that culture; or when it usurps the artifact and its significance, especially when that significance is embedded in the experiences of people from that culture/subculture/group. At its worst, cultural appropriation is done in a way that disrespects or denigrates the culture/subculture that brought about the appropriated “artifact.”... This isn’t supposed to be a comprehensive or authoritative list, just me trying, clumsily, to put some words to some ways that cultural appropriation can be negative.

Trying to find the definitive line between what is positive cultural appropriation and what is negative cultural appropriation—well, it gets complicated quickly, and murky, and in some cases contentious, and I’m not the person to try and define that line, if it exists.

So why in popular discourse does “cultural appropriation” seem so negative? I think it’s probably because the negative examples of cultural appropriation are the ones that spread—through media, through word of mouth, through whatever other way. It’s far more salacious to hear about some hairbrained or asinine or malicious thing somebody does that insults or harms an entire group of people than to hear about the cultural “artifacts” that were appropriated/exchanged neutrally or positively. Consequently, cultural appropriation as portrayed beyond academia is almost entirely negative examples—so of course people start to feel the term itself is connotatively negative.

I think people probably learn the neutral academic definition of cultural appropriation, but hold onto the inherently-negative connotation they were shown in examples. And so they approach everything that fits the neutral definition as if it is inherently negative, or they see things that fit the neutral definition which are clearly not negative and begin to dislike the term “cultural appropriation” itself.

Back to ratchet: I’ve heard the term used. I’m not going to try and decide whether culturally appropriating its use is positive, neutral, or negative. But from how I’ve heard it used, and from the Urban Dictionary link @janbb provided, I don’t think it’s simply a replacement for “wretched” in all the places the word “wretched” might be used. For instance, one of the definitions in the Urban Dictionary includes this—erm—“gem”: Warning! This term is a racial stereotype, sexist fat and slut-shaming speech and may provoke ethnic violence from target. “Wretched,” by contrast, doesn’t carry these sorts of connotations with it. I didn’t see the discussion you had with the other YouTuber, but his concern over your use of the term may have had more to do with this particular word’s connotative meaning than the concept of you appropriating any old slang word.

Sorry this got so long, by the way. Hope it gets at what you were wondering.

JLeslie's avatar

Just don’t use the word around the one guy upset about it.

Also, you probably need to ask this Q to a site that has more black people on it to get more informative feedback. We don’t have that many black people here I don’t think. The two who stand out in my mind, who I knew were black, are no longer here. I assume some jellies are black and I don’t know it.

JLeslie's avatar

Very sorry for multiple posts, but I clicked on the link to the urban dictionary for ratchet. Once on that page I clicked on the link for the word wretched. Sorry, but I got a chuckle from the first line. Here’s that link. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=wretched

I have never associated wretched or ratchet with a particular race. I still don’t understand why anyone does.

zenvelo's avatar

And for over 130 years, …the wretched refuse (meaning white Europeans) was welcome to come to the US.

rojo's avatar

Oh lord. I hope the French and the Germans don’t get wind of this. We have appropriated so many words from them in the past.

BTW my opinion is that the word “ratchet” is unoffensive unless used in conjunction with the word “wheedle”. In which case it is totally inappropriate

Dutchess_III's avatar

Loll! Or “ratchet bitch”..

Demosthenes's avatar

I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word “ratchet” used outside of the phrase “ratchet-ass ho” :)

Dutchess_III's avatar

I have never heard “rachet-ass ho” either.

Patty_Melt's avatar

Seems like a lost of heated discussion over something which will always be a hand tool to me.
People who want to use common words as substitutions for stupid mispronunciations imitate me, and I don’t care about color on that.
If somebody axe me for a ratchet, they get a wrench, not a wench.
See how stupid? One sentence, three tools meaning something else.
Don’t be a tool, fool, say your words right.

rojo's avatar

Dowun heeun @Patty_Melt y’all wood get a ranch or possibly a ra-unch.

Patty_Melt's avatar

Oh good grief. Here I posted about substitutions, and spell screw changed up some of my words. I spelled them right, but it decided it liked other words instead. I hate this damn thing.

MrGrimm888's avatar

Yeah. Fuck spell check…

Dutchess_III's avatar

I used to have a boss who constantly over ruled spell check in her emails. As a result they were full of misspelled words that she insisted were spelled right.

chyna's avatar

Kinda funny, I was just reading an article about Tim Conway and saw this sentence: The battle over Tim Conway‘s health care has ratched up another level — his daughter is now seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the comedian’s current wife from moving him to a lesser medical facility.
I haven’t seen the word in use for quite a while.

kritiper's avatar

I think that “ratched” should be spelled ‘ratcheted.’
But the additional ”-ed” is not required, although possibly many, including myself, say it that way.

Adagio's avatar

I’ve definitely heard of it and used it in the context you refer to Keith, feeling rat shit, I never visualised the word in my head as being spelled ratchet though. It was definitely around during the 70s and possibly 80s in NZ, so maybe that’s why those in the US are not familiar.

Patty_Melt's avatar

That does clear things up a bit.

snowberry's avatar

I just remembered this. My husband’s family had a fun habit of deliberately mispronouncing words- just because they could. He often spoke fondly of going ratchet (rabbit) hunting with his father.

It would be unfortunate if anybody thought that was some kind of racial slur or anything else. They were just silly, but fun people.

Dutchess_III's avatar

My husbands grandfather, who was from Greece, called squirrels, “squeals.” I have no idea why.
My grand daughter called them “squirrids,” when she was about 2. We still call them squirrids to this day. :D

MrGrimm888's avatar

Ok…. I talked to my 16 year old nephew. “Ratchet,” is like a trashy girl. HE SPECIFICALLY SAID NO RACE INVOLVED. He said a girl dressing in slutty, trashy clothes, or acting trashy, was “ratchet.”...

There are multiple current rap songs, with this phrase used about “ratchet” girls…

MrGrimm888's avatar

He added that it’s used “in reference of a female 9 out of 10 times.” “Unless, it’s an object.” You could have a “ratchet” bike….

Dutchess_III's avatar

This is insanely ignorant!

MrGrimm888's avatar

I’m sorry Dutch. I heard the word used, when my nephew had friends over, and it’s in a lot of song lyrics.

I’m just passing on what I heard… That’s how the word is used, as slang, by American youths…

MrGrimm888's avatar

I would add, that most slang, is ignorant. IMO…...

kritiper's avatar

I guess, as a mechanic with several ratchets, I am pretty hip in my speech, and didn’t even know it!

Dutchess_III's avatar

I used to date a guy who pronounced the word “heroin” as “heir-on.” He just coudn’t read I guess. Or someone couldn’t.

MrGrimm888's avatar

No. “Herr-on,” is a slightly older slang for heroin. It doesn’t bring as much attention to texts, or phone conversations.
It has largely been overtaken, by more current nicknames.

Dutchess_III's avatar

He was from the deep south if that makes any difference. Raised in the projects, too.

MrGrimm888's avatar

^If he lived in an impoverished area, he was around drugs…

Dutchess_III's avatar

Yes. No doubt he was around drugs. He couldn’t escape it in the end, either. I didn’t realize “herr on” was an actual word he grew up with.

janbb's avatar

^^“There are more things in Heaven and earth, Horatio, then are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Dutchess_III's avatar

Sry. My philosophy was that he was just dumbt and cunt reed.

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