I never knew that “shmata” was not an English word. I thought shmata meant housedress. I didn’t even know that the word housedress existed. My mother would say, “Wait, I’ll be right there, let me put on my shmata.”
Since we began sending our son to an orthodox cheder, we have been exposed to much more Yiddish. Our community speaks and/or sprinkles their speech with Yiddish and Yiddishisms. I have learned many more meanings for shmata:
a rag; something you throw on the floor when: your 18 month old insists on using a real cup instead of a sippy cup and tips it over; or when your 3 year old just drank too much chocolate milk and throws up; or your husband drips juice from meat that was defrosting in the fridge
a headcovering; what a woman grabs when she needs to take off her sheitel and she can’t find a hat or proper tichel (I’ve been known to use my husband’s undershirt)
an abused person; similar to a “doormat”; a spouse who gets berated in public; a person who gets taken advantage of
a piece of clothing; does not have to be something old and falling apart. Could very well be something nice, but just not what is desired to be worn by the owner (ie. “How do you expect me to wear that shmata to the wedding? I wore it to the last one we went to!”)
Basically, a shmata is something worthless. But my mother would disagree, unless you are describing a housedress that was too worn out to wear.