White Word of the Week: Ratchet

Socket and Wrench Ratchet
Socket and Wrench Ratchet

White people have contributed so much to American culture from Rock & Roll to cornrows and it doesn’t stop there. Join us for our new series, White Word of the Week, where we highlight yt people’s latest and greatest contributions to American slang.

Today’s word: Ratchet

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Origin: American Mechanics, 1950s

Mechanics have been using “ratchets” for hundreds of years. However, it wasn’t until a the 1950s that a group of white mechanics from a local Michigan shop called Jack’s Autos re-appropriated the term as slang. Jack’s Autos was known for always having ratchets lying around. They they also had a tradition of one man working on an automobile while the rest of the men would go on lunch break. One day, the funny man of the group thought it’d be clever to call mechanics on breaks  “ratchet” as if to compare them to the tools lying around being “useless.”

The other guys thought it was so hilarious they started calling other people “ratchet.”  The whole tiny Michigan town eventually adopted the word to mean anything silly, and the more popular the word became, the more positive the connotation. Now ratchet can mean anything from “trifling” to “awesome” all depending on the subject matter. Thanks to those mechanics we’ve now got a diverse word for the ages!

Ratchet and Clank, in theaters now



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