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

Definition of ghetto

 (Entry 1 of 3)

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



Definition of ghetto (Entry 2 of 3)

often disparaging
: of, relating to, being, or characteristic of a ghetto (see ghetto entry 1 sense 2) or the people who live there ghetto youth/music ghetto neighborhoods Features that, according to [El] Jones, are often shamed and seen as "ugly, ghetto, or unprofessional" when on Black people, but suddenly become desirable and attractive when on a white person.CBC Kids News And lest anyone think graffiti itself is dead … the memorial walls are the latest outburst and refinement of ghetto art springing up in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and beyond.— David Gonzalez … the many social and cultural factors that went into the creation of a permanent class of ghetto poor, unable to move into the mainstream.— Jonathan Alter


ghettoed; ghettoing; ghettos

Definition of ghetto (Entry 3 of 3)

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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 Human capital is the single most important predicate to emergence from the middle-income ghetto in which countries like Mexico wallow. Anne Stevenson-yang, Forbes, 8 Sep. 2021 His film followed Helen Lyle, a white woman, who ventured into the ghetto to research an urban legend about a hook-handed spirit who kills anyone who says his name five times into a mirror. Andrew R. Chow, Time, 27 Aug. 2021 My grandfather wrote an order on Aug. 22, 1941 to send thousands of Jews to a ghetto in Zagere, where they were slaughtered. Silvia Foti, WSJ, 25 Aug. 2021 But by 1943, Japan—under pressure from its German allies—had forced these stateless refugees into a one-square-mile ghetto known as the Hongkew District (now Hongkou). Nora Mcgreevy, Smithsonian Magazine, 21 July 2021 Jews were locked away to suffer in their own ghetto. Mark Lamster, Dallas News, 16 July 2021 Shortly after that, politicians began to discuss policies tightening social benefit payments to certain populations, and the ghetto list came into being. Lenora Chu, The Christian Science Monitor, 2 June 2021 In the uprising’s aftermath, Purifoy and Outterbridge began to collect the signs of its wreckage, hoping to turn them into sculpture that could express the interior life of the Watts ghetto. Los Angeles Times, 26 May 2021 The ghetto, deportations, Auschwitz, torture, 18091. ... Dick Schwartz, Star Tribune, 3 July 2021

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


1892, in the meaning defined above


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


from attributive of ghetto entry 1

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Dictionary Entries Near ghetto



ghetto blaster

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Last Updated

20 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Ghetto.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Sep. 2021.

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More Definitions for ghetto



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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