ghetto

A word for a place you probably don’t want to get to. In the sound, it comes across as the beginning of get away, but the final o can give a mournful hollowness fading away like a dying cry echoed among tenements, especially when sung after the words in the. The look is spookier still, with the gh of ghost to start – and that silent h gives a sense of hollowness realized in a context like this (but quite absent in spaghetti, which this word seems little reminiscent of in spite of the commonality in form, due to the great difference of emotional tone in the referents). The tt could be twin tenements. The flavour of this word is strongly inner-city African-American now, as evidenced by the well-known ghetto blaster (now so common a phrase that the ghetto reference is skimmed across with nary a glance) and the newer ghetto fabulous and similar locutions (including descriptions of things as very ghetto, so ghetto, etc.). But any even passing student of European history – anyone who has learned anything at all about the persecution of Jews in Europe – will know this as a word first of all not for a vaguely defined lower-class area into which people (usually of a single disadvantaged ethnic group) slide and try to climb out but for a sharply defined quarter in which Jews were often forced to live. And where was the first one, the one that gave the name to the type? If you spotted this word as Italian, you were right: Venice, 1516 – a city in which also lived many merchants, as Shakespeare noted. The place name predated this assignation, and its origin is uncertain, but it may have come from and industry that had formerly occupied the island: the flames and smoke of a getto, a foundry.

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