Oy vey

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Sign at the border of Brooklyn

Oy vey (Yiddish: אױ װײ) or oy vey ist mir is a Yiddish phrase expressing dismay or exasperation. Also spelled oy vay, oy veh, or oi vey, and often abbreviated to oy, the expression may be translated as, "oh, woe!" or "woe is me!" Its Hebrew equivalent is oy vavoy.[1][2]


According to etymologist Douglas Harper, the phrase is derived from Yiddish and is of Germanic origin.[3] 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.[citation needed]

According to Chabad.org, an alternative theory for the origin of the Yiddish expression is that it stems from Biblical Hebrew, with cognates in other Semitic languages (Aramaic).[1]


The expression is often abbreviated to simply oy, or elongated to oy vey ist mir ("Oh, woe is me").[4][5] The fuller lament may also be spelled as Oy vey iz mir.[6] The main purpose or effect of elongating it is often dramatic, something like a "cosmic ouch".[6][7] Oy is not merely an ordinary word, but rather expresses an entire world view, according to anthropologist Penny Wolin.[8] Its meaning is approximately opposite that of mazel tov.[6] A related expression is oy gevalt, which can have a similar meaning, or also express shock or amazement.

In popular culture

In New York City, there is a sign on the Williamsburg Bridge that reads "Leaving Brooklyn: Oy vey!" because of the borough's large Jewish population.[9]

Weird Al Yankovic's song "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi" on his album Running with Scissors frequently uses the phrase.[10]


The Latin equivalent is heu, vae! (pronounced, "hoi, vai", amongst others). A more standard expression would be o, me miserum, or heu, me miserum.

See also


  1. ^ a b "What Does Oy Vey Mean?", Chabad.org. Accessed Aug. 13, 2013.
  2. ^ See Proverbs 23:29, where King Solomon asks, "To whom is oy and to whom is avoy?" [1]
  3. ^ "Oy". Douglas Harper Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 10 Oct 2011. 
  4. ^ Rozakis, Laurie. The Portable Jewish Mother, p. 274 (Adams Media 2007).
  5. ^ Kaplan, Alice. French Lessons: A Memoir, p. 5 (University of Chicago Press 1994).
  6. ^ a b c Stevens, Payson et al. Meshuggenary: Celebrating the World of Yiddish, p. 34 (Simon and Schuster 2002).
  7. ^ Jacobs, Meredith. The Modern Jewish Mom's Guide to Shabbat, p. 229 (HarperCollins 2007).
  8. ^ Wolin, Penny. The Jews of Wyoming: Fringe of the Diaspora, p. 196 (Crazy Woman Creek Press 2000).
  9. ^ New York TimesNYT – "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."
  10. ^ CNNCNN – "Weird Al: Living up to his name": July 12, 1999