According to etymologist Douglas Harper, the phrase is derived from Yiddish and is of Germanic origin. It is a cognate of the German expression o weh, or auweh, combining the German and Dutch exclamation au! meaning "ouch/oh" and the German word weh, a cognate of the English word woe (as well as the Dutch wee meaning pain). The expression is also related to oh ve, an older expression in Danish and Swedish, and oy wah, an expression used with a similar meaning in the Montbéliard region in France.
The expression is often abbreviated to simply oy, or elongated to oy vey ist mir ("Oh, woe is me"). The fuller lament may also be spelled as Oy vey iz mir. The main purpose or effect of elongating it is often dramatic, something like a "cosmic ouch". Oy is not merely an ordinary word, but rather expresses an entire world view, according to anthropologist Penny Wolin. Its meaning is approximately opposite that of mazel tov. A related expression is oy gevalt, which can have a similar meaning, or also express shock or amazement.
In popular culture
|Look up oy vey in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Oy Definition – Random House Unabridged Dictionary and Webster's New Millennium Dictionary of English
- "Oy". Douglas Harper Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 10 Oct 2011.
- "What Does Oy Vey Mean?", Chabad.org. Accessed Aug. 13, 2013.
- Rozakis, Laurie. The Portable Jewish Mother, p. 274 (Adams Media 2007).
- Kaplan, Alice. French Lessons: A Memoir, p. 5 (University of Chicago Press 1994).
- Stevens, Payson et al. Meshuggenary: Celebrating the World of Yiddish, p. 34 (Simon and Schuster 2002).
- Jacobs, Meredith. The Modern Jewish Mom's Guide to Shabbat, p. 229 (HarperCollins 2007).
- Wolin, Penny. The Jews of Wyoming: Fringe of the Diaspora, p. 196 (Crazy Woman Creek Press 2000).
- New York Times – NYT – "JIM RUTENBERG", February 25, 2006, "In September, a new sign went up on the Williamsburg Bridge, and it won national notice as another example of New York City's singularly abrasive charm: Leaving Brooklyn, Oy Vey! The sign, the brainchild of the Brooklyn borough president, Marty Markowitz, gained attention in newspapers as far away as Pittsburgh and Kansas City."
- CNN – CNN – "Weird Al: Living up to his name": July 12, 1999