Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate October 2001

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What does the word "ghetto" truly mean? The definition of "ghetto" in the New Webster's Dictionary is: a section to which Jews were restricted; a section of a city in which members of a national or racial group live or are restricted. Today, society has changed the definition of the word "ghetto" to: dirty, cheap, of poor quality, bad, and messy. The word used casually as slang is not only a cheap insult, but also shows ignorance of the word's history.

The history of the word "ghetto" dates back to 1280 in Muslim Morocco when Jewish people were transferred to segregated quarters called mullahs. The ghetto was kept enclosed with walls and gates and locked at night. The houses were packed with people creating fire hazards, as well as, unsanitary conditions. Today, in the United States, social and economic factors, rather than legal requirements, have segregated minorities into ghettos. These reasons should encourage people not to use the word "ghetto."

One sometimes wonders why individuals use such a degrading word. The word "ghetto" can be used several different ways. For example, "The stereo is so ghetto that the CD skips when I go over a bump." In this case, "ghetto" is used to describe the car's stereo CD player. The car's stereo CD player is so cheap and bad that it skips. A cheaper stereo may result in skips, rather than a more expensive stereo that has ESP (electronic shock protection). "Ghetto" can also be used to describe a person. For instance, "Jane is so ghetto that she lives in a cardboard box." "Ghetto" is used in this scenario to describe that Jane is cheap and dirty because she lives in a cardboard box. People often refer to "ghetto" as a bad part of the city. For example, "New York's Harlem is an example of a ghetto." In this sentence the slang word "ghetto" means that New York's Harlem is a dirty, cheap, of poor quality, bad, and messy place to live. One single word means all those words combined. That is the reason why some individuals employ the word "ghetto," because it is easier to say one word, rather than stating a few words to describe something, or someone, etc. Other reasons individuals use the word "ghetto" is to seem hip, especially if one is a white kid from the suburbs who aspires to be like DMX (a hip hop band).

"Ghetto" in today's society means dirty, cheap, of poor quality, bad, and messy. The word used casually as slang is not only a cheap insult, but also shows ignorance of the word's history. People should not have to suffer from what other people suffered years ago. Individuals should not be using the term "ghetto," because it isn't nice to degrade groups of people who aren't as fortunate as other people. The population takes things for granted. Just because someone has a bad stereo CD player, lives in a cardboard box, or lives in a bad part of town doesn't mean that people need to demean other people's property and their feelings. Would individuals like to be called "ghetto," or have their possessions called "ghetto?" Probably most people would not like to be called "ghetto," so why bother using this term? In reading this essay, I hope people will realize how degrading the term "ghetto" is, and that the citizens of this great United States will think twice before using the term "ghetto" in everyday conversations.

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