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Excuse me, but ‘ratchet’ is wretched

Updated: October 7, 2013 12:45PM



‘She so ratchet.”

“That hairdo was a ratchet mess.”

Ratchet this. Ratchet that. Ratchet — as in Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs.

Ratchet. It seems to be the latest word in urban slang, spreading like wildfire, spilling from the lips of rappers, celebrities, kids and even adults, all with a sense of hipness and embraced with a grin and a twinkle in their eyes. And I am convinced that Ebonics has sunk to a new low and seems increasingly to be trampling all over the hallowed ground of the English language, which seems to be spiraling toward the depths of verbal purgatory.

To this, my good fellow, I say, “Enough of this ratchet mess!”

Last I checked, a ratchet was a hand tool. A noun.

And it is a verb only if used to mean moving something up or down in a ratchet fashion. That is, unless you check the Urban Dictionary online, which defines ratchet as “a diva, mostly from urban cities and ghettos, that has reason to believe she is every man’s eye candy.”

But judging from my unscientific research, ratchet also seems to mean something or someone in very poor quality, taste or ability, perhaps deplorable, distressing, contemptible, miserable even.

Uh, excuse me, but that word is wretched. Not ratchet!

And it’s spelled w-r-e-t-c-h-e-d. Get a dictionary, look it up.

OK, so the butchering and decimation of English isn’t new. I admit to having been a proud partaker of ghetto or urban slang. I have felt the aura of cool hipness sweep over my body as I spit some lingo that I knew not everyone understood. Once, I relished in our generational coded conversations that our elders could not decipher.

But now, even an old-school urban linguist like myself has trouble keeping up with the ever-emerging assortment of new “words” and phrases: “Shawty.” “Twerkin’.” “Turn up . . .”

Making matters worse, just last month, the Oxford Dictionaries Online added a few new words: selfies (a photograph taken of oneself and uploaded to a social media website), jorts (jean shorts), srsly (short for seriously), and, of course, twerk (meaning, “to dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance”).

Seriously? Gimme a break.

OK, so maybe I am officially an old fuddy-duddy and not so hip anymore.

But back in the day, I had the good fortune of learning the power of language, even if I was a verbal violator. The Catholic nuns at my high school required that we trace the origin of words to their root and that we even learn Latin.

Those otherwise sweet and unassuming sisters, in their black and white habits, were fierce educators. They sought to increase our vocabulary through reading books. They turned us on to the classics, insisted that we talk right and taught us that language is power. They also taught us, in essence, that to break the rules of language, one must first know them.

The problem I see today, amid all this wretchedness, is that far too many people breaking the rules don’t know diddly squat, especially young people whose success will hinge on their ability to speak, read and write English rather than Ebonics. But some srsly won’t know the difference.

And that’s, well, uh, if I do say so myself, just ratchet.

Email: author@johnwfountain.com



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