a toothed bar with which a pawl engages.
(not in technical use) a pawl or the like used with a ratchet or ratchet wheel.
a mechanism consisting of such a bar or wheel with the pawl.
a steady progression up or down: the upward ratchet of oil prices.
verb (used with object), verb (used without object)
to move by degrees (often followed by up or down ): to ratchet prices up; Interest rates have been ratcheting downward.

1650–60; alteration of French rochet; Middle French rocquet a blunt lance-head < Germanic

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World English Dictionary
ratchet (ˈrætʃɪt)
1.  a device in which a toothed rack or wheel is engaged by a pawl to permit motion in one direction only
2.  the toothed rack or wheel forming part of such a device
vb (usually foll by up or down)
3.  to operate using a ratchet
4.  to increase or decrease, esp irreversibly: electricity prices will ratchet up this year; Hitchcock ratchets up the tension once again
[C17: from French rochet, from Old French rocquet blunt head of a lance, of Germanic origin: compare Old High German rocko distaff]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

1659, from Fr. rochet "bobbin, spindle," from It. rocchetto "spool, ratchet," dim. of rocca "distaff," possibly from a Gmc. source (cf. O.H.G. rocko "distaff," O.N. rokkr), from P.Gmc. *rukka-, from PIE base *rug- "to spin." Cf. rocket (2). Spelling in Eng. influenced by
Ger. Rätsche "ratchet." The verb is first recorded 1881; transf. sense is from 1977.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Example sentences
We used a ratchet strap to secure the boxes in the back of the truck.
Moreover, there's plenty of time, since evolution uses a ratchet effect of developing a form and then morphing it for other uses.
In an area that is already seething with anger at official corruption, the
  arrests may serve only to ratchet up the tensions.
They also tend to have less volatility, meaning they don't tend to ratchet up
  or down in price nearly so much.
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