ghet·​to | \ ˈge-(ˌ)tō How to pronounce ghetto (audio) \
plural ghettos also ghettoes

Definition of ghetto

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a quarter of a city in which Jews were formerly required to live
2 : a quarter of a city in which members of a minority group live especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure
3a : an isolated group a geriatric ghetto
b : a situation that resembles a ghetto especially in conferring inferior status or limiting opportunity the pink-collar ghetto


ghettoed; ghettoing; ghettos

Definition of ghetto (Entry 2 of 2)

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Did You Know?

The etymology of Italian ghetto was formerly the subject of much speculation, but today there is little doubt that the word comes from the Italian dialect form ghèto, meaning “foundry.” A foundry for cannons was once located on an island that forms part of Venice, where in 1516 the Venetians restricted Jewish residence. The word ghèto became the name for the area and was borrowed into standard Italian as ghetto, with the meaning of “section of a city where Jews are forced to live.” From there it passed into most other European languages. Since the late 19th century, the meaning of ghetto has been extended to crowded urban districts where other ethnic or racial groups have been confined by poverty or prejudice.

Examples of ghetto in a Sentence

Noun He grew up in the ghetto.
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Of particular interest is Polanski, who survived the Krakow ghetto during World War II only to see his wife, the actress Sharon Tate, massacred by followers of Charles Manson in August 1969. David L. Ulin, The New Republic, "The Enduring Vision of Chinatown," 11 Feb. 2020 On that day, desperate Jewish residents rose in armed resistance against German forces brought in to liquidate the ghetto. Debbie Cenziper, Washington Post, "The Mystery of the Trawniki Nazis," 23 Jan. 2020 What the American ghetto reveals about the ethics and economics of changing neighborhoods. The New Yorker, "Sunday Reading: American Cityscapes," 8 Sep. 2019 Soweto was established by the white government in the 1930s as a black ghetto on the southwestern fringe of Johannesburg (the name is an abbreviation of South Western Townships). New York Times, "Soweto, Once Unified Against Apartheid, Is Now Divided by Wealth," 29 Sep. 2019 Among other things, ghetto is about the power of words and language., "Knowing the history of the word ghetto and also recognizing its rhetorical power, what can that history teach us for the future?," 14 Sep. 2019 Germans entered the town in July 1941 and soon after kept the Jews as prisoners in a ghetto., "U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem issues travel warning over settlements announcement," 19 Nov. 2019 Self-defense in the ghetto will have been a reality. Howard Reich,, "Debunking the myth that Jews did not resist during the Holocaust, a new exhibit in Skokie shows the ways they fought back," 23 Oct. 2019 In 1944, her family was placed in a ghetto and then deported to Auschwitz. Emily Langer, Washington Post, "Eva Kor, survivor of Nazi medical experiments at Auschwitz, dies at 85," 12 July 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ghetto.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of ghetto


1611, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1936, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for ghetto

Noun and Verb

Italian, from Venetian dialect ghèto island where Jews were forced to live, literally, foundry (located on the island), from ghetàr to cast, from Latin jactare to throw — more at jet

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Time Traveler for ghetto

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The first known use of ghetto was in 1611

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Statistics for ghetto

Last Updated

18 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Ghetto.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for ghetto


How to pronounce ghetto (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of ghetto

: a part of a city in which members of a particular group or race live usually in poor conditions
: the poorest part of a city


ghet·​to | \ ˈge-tō How to pronounce ghetto (audio) \
plural ghettos or ghettoes

Kids Definition of ghetto

: a part of a city in which members of a particular group live in poor conditions

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More from Merriam-Webster on ghetto

Spanish Central: Translation of ghetto

Nglish: Translation of ghetto for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of ghetto for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about ghetto

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