“That’s so ghetto!”

The roots of the word “ghetto” may reach back as far as 16th century Italy. Some scholars speculate it is a contraction from a shortened variant of the Italian words borgo and getto–Italian for, respectively, borough and foundry. Combined into borgetto, the new meaning became Italian for “little town.” There are other possible etymological sources for ghetto in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Old French, as well.

Regardless of its origin, the word ghetto survives in our present-day English, referring to inner city neighborhoods. Nearly always monocultural and ethnic, ghettos are notoriously difficult to break away from in a quest for socioeconomic improvement.

The definition for ghetto continues to evolve. The other day one of my students referred to a duct tape repair job as being “ghetto,” reflecting how the word has inched its way into our slang. Often used to describe something that has been jury-rigged or improvised, it can also mean cheap or low-class. Sadly, this specific meaning is often ascribed to those who live in the areas from which this word has been appropriated.

Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, has spent years studying the history of residential segregation in America. He spoke today on NPR’s Fresh Air, where he dispels the myth that ghettos are poor because of the people living in them. They are poor, he says, because of deliberate, racist government policies. He raises some enlightening points, and the interview is well worth your time. Click on the link below, then come back and tell us what you think.



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