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ghet·​to ˈge-(ˌ)tō How to pronounce ghetto (audio)
plural ghettos also ghettoes
: a quarter of a city in which Jews were formerly required to live
: a quarter of a city in which members of a minority group live especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure
: an isolated group
a geriatric ghetto
: a situation that resembles a ghetto especially in conferring inferior status or limiting opportunity
the pink-collar ghetto


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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


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ghettoed; ghettoing; ghettos

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.

Example Sentences

Noun He grew up in the ghetto.
Recent Examples on the Web
Across the river from Kazimierz, the former Jewish ghetto is where Oskar Schindler saved the lives of many of his Jewish workers. Rick Steves, Chicago Tribune, 30 May 2023 In a time of double-digit inflation, more and more women have to migrate to urban ghettos in search of work. Mira Sethi, The New Yorker, 21 Mar. 2023 This includes Latvian participation in the Holocaust, in which 70,000 Latvian Jews and thousands of German and Austrian Jews deported to the Riga ghetto were murdered, and the service of more than 100,000 Latvians in Nazi German military formations. Gordon F. Sander, The New York Review of Books, 21 July 2022 Beyond the production techniques, Fat Pat’s vivid storytelling and raw lyricism about life in the ghetto resonated with fans, and arguably set a new precedent for authenticity in hip-hop. Lance Scott Walker, Chron, 2 May 2023 During the same year, Jews resisted the Germans in Vilna (Vilnius), Bialystok, and a number of other ghettos. Camille Fine, USA TODAY, 19 Apr. 2023 It was known as the most multiethnic neighborhood in New York, if not America, a ghetto of impoverished, mostly recent immigrants. Roy Schwartz, CNN, 31 Mar. 2023 He was soon sent to the Jewish ghetto, where the synagogue was immediately destroyed. Liana Satenstein, Vogue, 24 Dec. 2022 Kisch was a young refugee in the Shanghai ghetto. cleveland, 9 Apr. 2022
The 47th Street South Side Chicago home of Vic Mensa, now 29, was not ghetto. Matt Thompson, SPIN, 1 May 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'ghetto.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use


1611, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1892, in the meaning defined above


1936, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of ghetto was in 1611

Dictionary Entries Near ghetto

Cite this Entry

“Ghetto.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


plural ghettos also ghettoes
: a part of a city in which Jews were formerly required to live
: a part of a city in which members of a minority group live especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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