Yiddish Word(s) Of The Week: Shmatta and Schlump



In Godfather II, Michael Corleone says of a fellow mobster – “Hyman Roth has been dying from the same heart attack for the last twenty years.” The same thing could be said about Yiddish, the language that refuses to die, even though it has been described as exactly that, a dead language.

Unlike Latin, which I arguably don’t know, but am going to say this anyway, Yiddish has style.

To me, the style comes not just from the incredibly humorous sounding words, but from the literal way our great-great-grandparents, great-grandparents and grandparents sounded when they said the words. I’m referring to their voices and style of speaking that they brought with them from the Old World.  They spoke Yiddish, and then English, with a special tone, that most of us can “do” if we really try. About a decade after they landed, linguists began paying attention. “People start noticing, huh, they speak English kinda funny,” says Rachel Steindel Burdin, a linguist at the University of New Hampshire who studies Jewish English.

So, really that is why you should love Yiddish. It’s just so simply cool.

Each week, Rabbi Ben Newman provides us with our Yiddish Word Of The Week. Newman is the founder and spiritual leader of Shtiebel a new paradigm Jewish community in the Rivertowns of Westchester, NY. He is also the author of several children’s books. Learn more here.

Shmatta and Schlump

Shmatta–A rag– often used despairingly to refer to someone’s tattered, unfashionable, or ugly clothes, especially head coverings.

Schlump(y)- sloppy, slovenly, unbecoming, dowdy.

E.g.– Oy! Look at that shmatta she’s wearing! What a schlump!