Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

And a hungry little boy with a runny nose plays in the street as the cold wind blows

Someone told me the other day about a person they'd met who claimed to live "on the ghetto end" of an obscenely opulent gated community down the road. Oh, well as long as you live on the ghetto end, I guess I can't call you... hey wait a minute.

So when I hear the term "ghetto," the first thing I think of is Jews and Nazis, which isn't how most people seem to see it these days. And it's hard to come up with a current definition, really, when everybody on earth claims to be ghetto. And I'm guilty, admittedly, of referring to the neighborhood where I grew up as the ghetto, for lack of a better term. So mea culpa, I repent.

One of my Facebook friends posted a status about how "ghetto" is often used as a synonym for "black," which I hadn't thought of, but which is true a lot of the time, which is pretty awful. And a lot of the time privileged people like me claim to be from the ghetto because we think it makes us seem less privileged somehow, and that's, I've realized, an appalling insult to people who actually did grow up going to bed hungry and dodging bullets and having no hope of getting out. It's a perversion of the term too, which Wikipedia defines as "a portion of a city in which members of a minority group live; especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure." Digest that for a moment. I can't even imagine being told that my skin or my family or the way I talk mean I'm destined to live a certain way in a certain place. But I want to insult people who were told that by claiming I was that too? Not cool, Brigid, not cool. 

Wikipedia also tells me that the word "ghetto" comes from the term "ghet," which means "slag" in Venetian. I wonder, then, what the word "slag" refers to. Does it mean that the people who live there are slag, or does it mean that the place itself is really crappy and horrible? Wikipedia goes on to say, though, that the term may not be quite so metaphorical in nature, but related to the fact that Jews were once confined to an island on which slag was also stored. 

Also, I just had to look up the word "slag," having noticed that I had no idea what slag actually is.

This picture came from the end of the street where I grew up. Back when this place was still a bar, legend has it that a guy got his nose bitten off in a fight. And I'm pretty sure that the reason the bar shut down was because someone got shot and killed in there. So ghetto isn't a complete exaggeration.


Anonymous said...

Interesting... I read the wikipedia entry on Venetian Ghettos.

It's interesting that the segregation of jews from european society and restriction of their trade directly lead to the founding of the banking industry, since Christians were forbidden by the Pope from Usery. The only place where a Christian could easily borrow money was from a jew.

Anonymous said...

Shame on you for quoting Wiki. *sigh* I thought I raised you better.