Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Ghetto and Slum

What is the difference between ‘ghetto’ and ‘slum’? Both words are used to refer to an urban area, or part of a city, where poor people usually live. Both words also have a negative connotation or feel to them. No one wants to be known to live in a ghetto or a slum. The words are very similar and often used interchangeably by native English speakers, but there is a slight difference in their meaning.

A ghetto refers to a part of a city where members of a particular ethnic group, culture or race live. Social, economic or even legal government pressure sometimes forces groups of people to stay within a certain area in a city forming a ghetto. For example: The Jews were required to live in the Jewish ghetto. Historically, these areas were poor, so ‘ghetto’ also has come to mean a poor area in a city prone to violence and drug abuse or other problems associated with poverty. Within a city, a ghetto has an inferior status or undesirable quality of life. For example, it might be said: No one wants to live in the ghetto. In more recent times, the word ‘ghetto’ has taken on a slang meaning of an adjective to describe something low class or poor. Teenagers might say to one another: That car she is driving is so ghetto, it looks like it will fall apart any minute.

A slum also refers to a poor area of a city. ‘Slum’ does not have as much to do with the type of people that live there, rather the conditions they live in. A slum is a dirty, densely populated housing area for people that live in poverty. The buildings are in poor condition and there is no order to anything. For example: The slums of the city are filled with poor children begging for food. Because of the meaning of the word ‘slum’, it also can be used to mean a very messy place, not just an area of a city. For example: The house was a slum, it hadn’t been cleaned in months. Like ‘ghetto’, slum has also taken on an additional slang meaning and usage. It can be used as an intransitive verb to mean to spend time in a place or in a condition that is below what you are used to, or to go visit the slum areas of a city. For example: She was slumming it when she stayed at my house, since I only have one bedroom and she had to sleep on the couch. Or: We are going to slum it and go to that seedy bar downtown.

So while ‘ghetto’ and ‘slum’ are very similar, they are different. A ghetto is often a slum and a slum is often a ghetto, which is why these words are confusing. Just keep in mind that a ghetto has to do with the type of people who live there, and a slum has to do with the surroundings of the area.

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