Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What "Ratchet" Means & How Its Slang Meanings Continue To Change

Edited by Azizi Powell

[Revised - July 18, 2017]

This is Part I of a three part series on the slang term "ratchet".

Part I provides definitions of and comments about the slang word "ratchet". This post also includes a partial chronology of the slang use of the word "ratchet" by various recording artists and YouTube videographers.

Click for Part II of this series. Part II showcases two YouTube videos of "Do Tha Ratchet" dance.

Click for Part III of this series. Part III showcases the 2012 video "Ratchet Girl Anthem" and provides the lyrics and explanations for some other African American Vernacular English terms from those lyrics.

The content of this post is presented for etymological and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

The earliest record that includes the slang word "ratchet" was released in 1992 (the Hip Hop song "I'm So Bad" by UGK (Underground Kingz). In that record-which is full of profanity and what is commonly known as "the n word"- UGK uses "ratchet-ass" as an insult.

Other early Hip Hop recording artists who played a significant role in popularizing the slang term "ratchet" were rapper Mr. Mandigo - from Shreveport, Louisiana who recorded the song "Do Tha Ratchet" in 1999 and rapper Lil' Boosie, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana who recorded a new version of that song in 2004.

The viral parody videos (more than 75 million hits to date) of rappers/comedians/YouTube videographers Emmanuel & Philip Hudson - Atlanta, Georgia -and their appearance in 2014 on America's Got Talent performing one of their hit video songs "Ratchet Girl's Anthem" also greatly helped to popularize the slang word "ratchet".

1992- term “ratchet ass” in Hip Hop song "I'm So Bad" from an album by UGK ("Underground Kingz")

1999 – Mr. Mandigo of Lava House records - "Do tha Ratchet” (Hip Hop dance record)

2004- Lil' Boosie of Lava House records - "Do tha Ratchet” (Hip Hop dance record)

January 16, 2012, "Ratchet Girl Anthem” comedic Hip Hop video by Emmanuel Hudson and Phillip Hudson . This video has 13,067,040 total views as of 10/19/2016 at 9:48 A.M and this is just one of a number of the YouTube copies of this video.

January 21, 2012 "Why You Askin All them Questions" video was first published on Youtube by Emmanuel Hudson and Phillip Hudson [This comedic Hip Hop video includes the repeated lyrics “She ratchet” and other uses of "ratchet"; That video has a total of 59,769,790 views to date.]

July 2014 - America's Got Talent 2014 - Auditions - Emmanuel & Phillip Hudson Ratchet Girl Anthem
Also note that in 2013 "In a New York Daily News interview weeks before the MTV Video Music Awards, Miley Cyrus used the word "ratchet" claiming “People have this misconception of me that I’m just one of these kids on TV and that now I go off and party and I’m just this ratchet white girl, and I’m not.”
Slang History: “Ratchet” does not come from “Wretched”, September 29, 2013 at 2:40 AM ET

Read the entry given as Excerpt #5 in the "What Does Ratchet Mean" section below for more examples of the word "ratchet" being used in Hip Hop records.

As is the case with many African American Vernacular English words, the slang word "ratchet" has had more than one meaning. And the slang meanings of "ratchet" and whether that term refers to both females and males still appear to be in flux.

Here are some excerpts from online articles/posts about the vernacular meaning of "ratchet". They are numbered for referencing purposes only.

From "Who You Calling Ratchet?: From LL's new song to Issa Rae's Web series, the word is the new "ghetto," and it's everywhere." by Tamara Palmer, October 16, 2012
..."What arguably started as a Southern rap dance at the turn of the century and then expanded to describe a relatively positive expression of energy has now become a worthy rival to the word “ghetto.” It is most typically used to describe outrageously uncivilized behaviors and music — often with women as the butt of the joke. (See Emmanuel and Phillip Hudson’s “Ratchet Girl Anthem,” which has snagged 30 million-plus views on YouTube since January.)"
That article also includes this quote "(Note: The usage should not be confused with “ratchet” as a euphemism for a handgun. See Cam’Ron’s “Get Ya Gun,” on which he rhymes: ” The car’s far, I’m at the bar, got my gat in the club (poppin’ Sizzurp)/And my ratchet is snub (snub) … “)

2. From
..."People try to categorize the term ‘ratchet’ and try to make it something ghetto or something negative, but I just think it’s letting loose a little bit,” says Charlamagne Tha God, co-host of New York’s Power 105 radio morning show The Breakfast Club and a Southern native. “Anything young, wild and free. ‘Ratchet’ is an old term that I first heard from Lil Boosie and Webbie and that whole camp. The word was kind of like ‘crunk,’ and before crunk music, there was the term ‘crunk.’"
"Crunk" means getting wild, losing all your inhibitions. "Crunk" is said to be coined from the words "crazy drunk".

3. From [Additional content from this site added on July 18, 2017]
a) "The word ["ratchet"] has an entry in the Right Rhymes hip-hop slang dictionary that quotes UGK as the earliest for the adjective."
– Hugo Dec 1 '14 at 12:05

b) "Oh, and The Right Rhymes hip-hop slang dictionary cites this use as the earliest meaning for "disorderly, inappropriate"...
– Hugo Dec 1 '14 at 9:01

c) "This [the 1992 UGK record "I'm So Bad"] is definitely the earliest specific match anyone has brought up—and it use ratchet in the dirty/skanky sense that seems to be widely in vogue now. The Wikipedia article for UGK ("Underground Kingz") says that they are from Port Arthur, Texas, which is practically on the western border of Louisiana. Shreveport is 208 miles almost due north of Port Arthur, so it's not just a hop, skip and a jump up U.S. Highway 96; but it is still fairly close (by Texas standards). – Sven Yargs Dec 1 '14 at 9:33
Shreveport, Louisiana is mentioned because that is the city where Mr. Mandigo is from. In 1999 rapper Mr. Mandigo recorded the Hip Hop dance song "Do tha Ratchet".

d) ..."As to whether ratchet is meant to be generally understood in a positive or a negative sense, that aspect of the term may well be in flux, just as everything else about it appears to be. In Lil' Boosie's world, ratchet is almost an environmental term: It applies to men (including LB himself) and to women, and it describes most of their doings in the neighborhood where he lives. In contrast, the Hudsons use ratchet specifically in connection with women and do not indicate any sympathy for anyone so described.

...the term as used by the Hudsons reminds me quite a bit of skanky, which derived from skank (“An unattractive woman; a malodorous woman; =SKAG,” according to Robert Chapman and Barbara Kipfer, Dictionary of American Slang, third edition [1995]). Here is the Chapman & Kipfer entry for skanky:

skanky or skank-o-rama adj 1980s teenagers fr black Nasty; repellant; =GROTTY, SCUZZY, TRASHY: The girls were somewhat skanky, with lank hair and rotten posture—Richard Price/ moved, the earth moved. Skank-o-rama—Sassy
Both skanky and ratchet (as used in the Hudsons’ comical YouTube video, anyway) are not gender-neutral terms, though none of the experts expressly makes this point about ratchet."

Both skanky and ratchet (as used in the Hudsons’ comical YouTube video, anyway) are not gender-neutral terms, though none of the experts expressly makes this point about ratchet.

It will be interesting to see whether the gender connection that "Ratchet Girl Anthem" promotes influences the long-term sense of the word, notwithstanding Lil' Boosie's earlier, more broadly applicable sense of the term. The crucial factor here, probably, is the proportion of users who base their knowledge of the term on the Hudsons' song versus the proportion of those who adopted the term as it was used in the older Shreveport, Louisiana, tradition."
-Sven Yargs answered Nov 30 '14 at 2:28 edited Nov 30 '14 at 7:11
To summarize a portion of this comment, as was customary in Shreveport, Louisiana, Lil' Boosie used "ratchet" for males and females, but Emmanuel and Philip Hudson who are from Atlanta, Georgia limit the adjective "ratchet" to females.

Added content- July 18, 2017
...."Now I get what "ratchet" means. But how is it pronounced? – Mari-Lou A Nov 30 '14 at 5:26"

@Mari-Lou A: The pronunciation I hear most often rhymes "ratchet" with "hatch it," but some people must pronounce it "ratchid" (rhyming with "batch id") or that spelling wouldn't have emerged in connection with this slang word. And again, I live in an out-of-the-loop micro-environment where ratchet refers to "socket wrench" and nothing else. – Sven Yargs Nov 30 '14 at 6:50"
The spelling "ratchet" is the only one that I've seen in social media to date [as of July 18, 2017] and that term only appears to be as an adjective for females only with its synonyms being the negative adjective meaning of "ghetto", 'skanky".

"It comes from the Mr. Mandigo song "Do the ratchet", "The Ratchet" in this case being a dance whose motion is similar to the action of a ratchet."
-Niall answered, Sep 15 '14 at 20:58

"Go on youtube and type in "Johnny too bad" by various Jamaican artists,most notably Jimmy Cliff and the excellent Slickers versions as well as another great one by our own Taj Mahall. The term "ratchet" is used in this song for a pistol. My assumption: to ratchet something loose from someone. The tool of choice for a thug,gangster or "jackboy". Makes sense to me. I know its straying from the topic but the term has been around down in the islands and in Jamaican communities here for decades. Ive heard it used in Miami as far back as the mid 80s."
-jordan grant, answered Sep 15 '14 at 20:28

"I thought "ratchet" was Jamaican English for a kind of wrench (or "spanner"), and that Johnny Too Bad carried this tool in his waist so that he could conveniently pull it out and hit people with it. Too literal? – Sven Yargs Sep 16 '14 at 7:08

With lyrics:
-A E answered, Nov 27 '14 at 11:04

4. From
Slang History: “Ratchet” does not come from “Wretched”, September 29, 2013
"Within the last year, the popularity of the slang term “ratchet” has exploded in pop culture. But to those of us from Louisiana, the word has been commonly used for almost a decade.

First things first. The slang term “ratchet” has absolutely nothing to do with the word “wretched.” Chicago Sun Times journalist John W. Fountain painfully attempted to suggest that ratchet was simply a butchering of a common English word. And he’s not alone. Bloggers,, and a variety of question and answer sites all mistakenly attribute the origin of ratchet with wretched.

..."in the years following the ... 2004 release [of the dance song "Do tha Ratchet”] the word ratchet became an adjective for anything “ghetto” or “busted” looking...

..."Now if you’ve ever seen a socket wrench with a ratcheting handle in use, you would know about its back-and-forth twisting movement when removing nuts and bolts. When you “Do Da Ratchet,” it involves twisting and jerking back-and-forth movements.*

In the original music video for “Do Da Ratchet” you can see clubgoers and others doing the ratchet dance, and moving their arms in circular ratcheting motions. And true to the dance term’s double meaning as something hood or ghetto, at the 1:24 mark in the video** you can see what appears to be a pregnant woman holding a bottle of beer as she dances in the club.

"Do Da Ratchet” was in heavy rotation on Hip Hop radio stations in Louisiana from Shreveport all the way down to Baton Rouge. But in the years following the song’s 2004 release, the word ratchet became an adjective for anything “ghetto” or “busted” looking."...
*The video that is referenced in this quote is given below as Example #1 in Part II of this series.

** The video that is referenced in this quote is given below as Example #2 in Part II of this series.

5. From "Ratchet: The Rap Insult That Became a Compliment" By John Ortved, April 11, 2013
[Pancocojams Editor: The beginning sentence in this excerpt refers to a 2012 photograph that Pop star Beyonce posted of herself on social media wearing earrings that spelled the word "ratchet".]

..."One of BeyoncĂ©’s skills is trend-spotting, and indeed ratchet has been all over popular culture in the past year. LL Cool J released a single named “Ratchet” last November, using the word as an adjective to describe a woman who is only after a man’s money. In his September single “Bandz a Make Her Dance,” Juicy J boasts of his inability to refuse the advances of "ratchet” women. And in March of 2012, Nicki Minaj dropped “Right By My Side,” with Chris Brown, in which she lamented that “all them bi&&hes* is ratchet.” At the same time, the “Ratchet Girl Anthem,” a parody track recorded by Philip and Emmanuel Houston, collected tens of millions of Youtube hits. In it, the Atlanta brothers pretend to be ratchet women describing their ilk: They carry outdated flip phones, go clubbing while pregnant, and try to punch other women in the face. “Ratchet is basically a lack of home training — being out in public and acting like you don’t have any sense,” Philip Houston told the Cut. “Putting a weave in the microwave just to curl it, that’s ratchet.”

..."In the liner notes of the [2004 Lil' Boosie "Do tha Ratchet] CD [producer] Phunk Dawg wrote a definition of ratchet: “n., pron., v, adv., 1. To be ghetto, real, gutter, nasty. 2. It’s whatever, bout it, etc.”

But the popularity of the song, and the adoption of ratchet by other, bigger names in the business — especially as rappers from the “Dirty South,” like Lil Wayne, T.I., and Juicy J came into vogue in the later 2000s — meant the definition of the word could not stay in the hands of Lava House Records. “It’s not necessarily negative. You could say ‘I’m ratchet’ to say ‘I’m real. I’m ghetto. I am what I am.’ It can be light, too,” Williams, the producer, explains. When ratchet is used in hip hop, it can also mean cool, sloppy, sleek, or flashy. When Azealia Banks name-checks the word, as she often does on Twitter — “Ratchet bi&&hes* make the world go around” was one recent tweet — it’s hard to figure out exactly what she means, but it definitely has positive connotations."
*This word is fully spelled out in this comment.

This concludes Part I of this series.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. I've been meaning to give a hat tip to pancocojams commenter slam2011 for prompting me to explore this subject about the meanings of the slang word "ratchet". I started thinking about and then doing online research for this subject as a result of slam2011's comments in this pancocojams post: "Todrick Hall's Video "Cinderonce" & YouTube Questions & Comments About Why The Entire Cast Is Black"

    Leemaid2010, a commenter who is quoted in that post wrote in 2015 that "This has to be my fav video of his. One where the black ppl aren't acting ratcheted or ghetto. I wish he would do more videos like this""

    And slam2011 asked me what the slang word "ratchet" means. I've learned more about the history and the meanings of the slang word "ratchet" since I answered that question. You can read that exchange by clicking that link.

    1. Also, click for another comment that I wrote about the word "ratchet" in the comment section for the pancocojams post: "Politicizing Janet Jackson's (and Vanity 6's) "Nasty" Songs"

  2. I've only come across one mention to the vernacular adjective "rachet" having its source in the "Nurse Ratched" fictional character (from the book and movie One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest:
    "I think its after nurse Ratched from one flew [over] the cuckoos nest. —carlsjr"- quoted by Sven Yargs Nov 30 '14 at 7:11
    Here's information about that character:
    "Nurse Ratched (also known as "Big Nurse") is a fictional character and the main antagonist of Ken Kesey's 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, as well as the 1975 film. A cold, heartless tyrant, Nurse Ratched has become the stereotype of the nurse as a battleaxe. She has also become a popular metaphor for the corrupting influence of power and authority in bureaucracies such as the mental institution in which the novel is set.

    Louise Fletcher won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Nurse Ratched in the film.... Nurse Ratched was named the fifth-greatest villain in film history (and second-greatest villainess, behind only the Wicked Witch of the West) by the American Film Institute in their series 100 Years... 100 Heroes & Villains.”...
    In my opinion, the One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Clock character Nurse Ratched is unlikely to be the source for the vernacular word "ratchet" because
    1. the vernacular term "ratchet" has no characteristics in common with that character; i.e. I've never seen the vernacular term "ratchet" being used to describe someone being evil, mean, cold, heartless, and/or overly strict.

    2. the Black population using the word "ratchet" with its vernacular meaning may be unfamiliar with the "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" book and movie

    3. There's no record of the term "ratchet" being used as it is used now in the decades when the book an movie was popular among certain populations.