Language Barriers – What Is a ‘Ratchet?’

Those of you who are new in America may have heard the word ‘ratchet’ used, especially among auto mechanics and in urban areas. In most instances you will hear this word, the term is used to refer to a type of mechanism used in mechanical applications such as tools. An example of a ratchet is a socket wrench, a tool that is commonly used by auto mechanics to loosen bolts on cars and trucks. (It is called a socket wrench because it uses different size sockets to loosen different size bolts. The socket is fastened to a key, which prevents the socket from falling off easily.)

How a Ratchet Works

A gear (or linear rack) and pawl system work together to allow movement only in one direction. The gear or rack will usually have teeth that are asymmetrical. On one side of each tooth, there will be a gentle slope. This is what allows free movement. The slope on the other side of each tooth is much steeper. When the pawl touches this slope, it prevents any further movement. This action is used to provide mechanical advantage in order to loosen bolts. (This type of mechanism is also used in other tools, such as jacks, cable ties, alarm clocks and lever hoists, to name a few. Refer to Wikipedia for more information.)

‘Ratchet’ Is Also a Slang Term

The word is also used (though rarely) as a slang term in referrence to an unattractive person (usually a woman) with a loud, annoying personality and a tendency to think they’re God’s gift to the world. A typical ratchet likes to dress in skimpy, skin-tight outfits, ridiculously high-heeled shoes and fish net stockings, hangs out in clubs and wears an overwhelmingly large amount of make-up that will sometimes clump on their face. (Refer to Urban Dictionary for more information.)

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