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What is the difference between a ghetto and a slum?

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up vote 15 down vote accepted

A slum is characterized by its run-down status, while a ghetto is characterized by the people who live there. Both usually mean some degree of poverty, being overcrowded, and having high crime rates.

Historically, a ghetto would be a place to put groups such as immigrants, Jews or black people, who weren't allowed to live anywhere else. Nowadays the reasons are mostly economical and cultural; people can't afford to live wherever they like, and choose to live among others with similar background.

A ghetto doesn't have to be particularly poor, some Chinatowns for example can be called ghettos even though they are not really slums. Sometimes, "slum ghetto" is used to clarify both the ethnic grouping and the poverty of an area.

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The term ghetto was originated in Venice to describe the restricted quarter of many European cities in which Jews were required to live. (wikipedia) –  bjelli Jan 15 '11 at 18:05
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I've also heard the term "student ghetto" referring to the area near a university which is populated mostly by students. –  Jeanne Pindar Jan 15 '11 at 22:10
    
Ironically in Venice the ghetto was to protect the Doge's middle eastern traders from the visiting followers of another Jew who seemed to have slightly misunderstood his message. The Venetians didn't do religion if there wasn't a profit in it. –  mgb Jun 7 '11 at 2:33
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Originally, yes, but people not aware of the history use them interchangeably now.

The word ghetto was used to refer to a concentration of a particular ethnicity into a single neighborhood. In Poland during WWII Jews were forced to live in communities where they did not mix with others. In the United States this term was used to describe the ethnically-centered neighborhoods in the big cities.

A slum is a very low income area marked by poor living conditions, sometimes crime.

Some ghettos became slums and so now the two ideas have intertwined in the minds of many.

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In a ghetto you will find people of the same race/socio-economic status/etc. While today indistinguishable from a slum, from a historical perspective, a ghetto was meant as a separate part of a society where 'certain' people were moved (as for instance the Warsaw ghetto for Jews during WWII). A slum, on the other hand, is merely a very poor neighborhood.

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Ghetto can also be used as an adjective, and not necessarily a negative one, depending on context and speaker. While the modern ghetto is usually of a lower socio-economic class, I think of a slum as much more destitute. Also, lest we forget the term slumming it, as in stooping beneath one's self, indicating perhaps again the implied undesirable factor of a slum.

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+1 for the adjective and verb forms of the words. Some example sentences might be good. –  Callithumpian Jun 7 '11 at 2:36
    
How is 'ghetto' "not necessarily negative"? It has lots of connotations but all seem negative. "You didn't clean up after yourself when your hot pocket exploded in the microwave? That's so ghetto." –  Mitch Jun 7 '11 at 15:49
    
One place where I think the negativity dissipates is within a group mentality, specifically one associated with a ghetto. Saying "you're so ghetto" within, say a group of young women from the ghetto, could be simply be an implication of a certain sense of style or attitude. –  Elizabite Jun 7 '11 at 20:46
    
@Mithc - it's often used ironically of rich neighbourhoods (although in a negative sense), eg Hampstead in North London is the "media/politics ghetto" because a lot of young trendy (and rich) media and political types live there. –  mgb Jul 27 '11 at 18:16
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