• ghetto •
Pronunciation: ge-to • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A section of a city in which all members of a religious or racial minority are forced to live. Originally, it referred to such a sector designated for Jews, but more recently the reference has been expanded to include any minority.
Notes: In the European eye few cities exude the romance of Venice: the city of love and honeymoons, canals and gondolas. it is a fairy-tale city on water. But in 1516 the ruling fathers of Venice decreed that all Jews could live in only one quarter of the city, an area called 'The Ghetto', thereby condemning forever the name of this lovely Venetian quarter. Today it is home to a thriving Jewish community where two of its original five synagogues still survive. The irony of the first ghetto arising in a city so much associated with love, is compounded by the fact that the Jews were freed from the Ghetto in 1797 by the scourge of Europe at the time: Napoleon Bonaparte. (The plural of this word, by the way, is ghettos—no E.)
In Play: The Warsaw Ghetto of World War II remains one of greatest blots on the pages of European history. Even the black ghettos that persist in parts of the US, socially rather than legally enforced, pale in comparison. The Italian word ghetto is being used more broadly today: "Harold just moved into a new mansion in Celestial Hills, a ghetto of corporate executives on the other side of town." Let us hope for the day when the blight of ghettos is removed permanently and the word can return to peacefully to Italy.
Word History: The section of Venice known as the Ghetto [getto] in the 16th century was the site of a foundry, the Italian word for which is getto, pronounced [jetto] in Italian. Some have speculated that ghetto was a dialectal variant of getto, but the pronunciations of the two words are quite distinct, as you can see. For this reason, we must concede the origin of today's word is, perhaps appropriately, obscure. (We owe another debt of gratitude to alphaDictionary's long-time friend, Lyn Laboriel, for suggesting yet another word with a fascinating history.)