Although some younger folks use "ratchet" as a slang word for (as best I can tell) "looking trashy and awful," we're first focusing here on an actual ratchet:
It's that tool that helps you loosen and tighten bolts, and it makes that clicking/rattling sound as you move it again and again in one direction until you're done.
So, a figurative ratchet is a permanent change that happens little by little or step by step.
And if you ratchet something, figuratively, you're permanently increasing or decreasing it, little by little or step by step.
(Interesting tidbit: I learned from Philip, a subscriber, that a ratchet is also a specific mechanical device that rotates in just one direction--check it out here!)
Part of speech:
Both a noun (one ratchet, a ratchet, every ratchet)
and a verb (to ratchet up, to ratchet something up, to ratchet down, to ratchet something down.)
How to use it:
For the noun, when you mean that something keeps on getting higher or getting lower, or better or worse, then talk about a ratchet on something, or a ratchet of something: "a ratchet on prices," "a ratchet of inflation."
Often you'll specify "an upward ratchet," "a downward ratchet," or "a one-way ratchet," like in these phrases: "an upward ratchet of standards," "a downward ratchet on expectations," "a one-way ratchet on interest rates."
For the verb, talk about something that ratchets up or upward ("prices ratcheting up again,") something that ratchets down or downward ("enthusiasm keeps ratcheting down,") or one person or thing that ratchets a second thing up or down ("their fierce sense of competition keeps ratcheting up the quality of presentations," "we're out of funds and need to ratchet down the scope of this project.")
As you can tell in all the example phrases above, it's often stuff related to money that tends to ratchet or get ratcheted: prices, fees, interest rates, inflation, budgets, the overall cost of living. But you can also use "ratchet" to talk about anything that can become more or less intense, such as interest, enthusiasm and energy, ambition, effort, support and dedication, commitment, intensity, seriousness, pressure and tension, adrenaline, plans, criticism and verbal attacks, expectations and requirements, and so on.
For high school kids, stress keeps ratcheting up as the end of the semester approaches.
I'd expected to see a downward ratchet of support as the candidate's antics got less funny and more frightening.
Look away from the screen to explain the definition in your own words. You’ll know you understand what "ratchet" means when you can explain it without saying "ramp it up" or "change it little by little."
Think of a time you felt more and more excited about something, and fill in the blank: "The excitement ratcheted up as _____."
Example: "The excitement ratcheted up as our moving date got closer and closer."
Spend at least 20 seconds occupying your mind with the game and quote below. Then try the review questions. Don’t go straight to the review now—let your working memory empty out first.
Playing With Words:
This month, challenge your powers of memory and recall (or just get ready to reign supreme on Wheel of Fortune) as we play with two-word phrases that you’ll find in a dictionary. We’ll start off with easy tasks and advance to harder ones as the month goes on. See the right answer to each question the following day. You might even see a new phrase that inspires your curiosity and makes you look it up. Have fun! (Note: Every dictionary recognizes a different set of two-word phrases. I used the OED to make these game questions.)
Without knowing how many letters the word has--what word fits into each phrase below?
Try this one today:
What word fits into each phrase below?
A Point Well Made:
C. S. Lewis: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
1. One opposite of RATCHET is
2. Ratcheting _____ is one way to _____.
A. down your restaurant spending .. stick to a tighter budget
B. across your worries .. get things done in spite of your fear
C. below the belt .. offend your audience
Answers are below.
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Make Your Point is crafted with love and brought to you each day for free by Mrs. Liesl Johnson, M.Ed., a word lover, learning enthusiast, and private tutor of reading and writing in the verdant little town of Hilo, Hawaii. For writing tips, online learning, essay guidance, and more, please visit www.HiloTutor.com.
Disclaimer: Word meanings presented here are expressed in plain language and are limited to common, useful applications only. Readers interested in authoritative and multiple definitions of words are encouraged to check a dictionary. Likewise, word meanings, usage, and pronunciations are limited to American English; these elements may vary across world Englishes.