Oy vey

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Sign on the Williamsburg Bridge leaving Brooklyn

Oy vey (Yiddish: אױ װײ) 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 (אוי ואבוי, ój va'avój).[1][2]


According to etymologist Douglas Harper, the phrase is derived from Yiddish and is of Germanic origin.[3] It is cognate with 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] The Latin equivalent is heu, vae!; a more standard expression would be o, me miserum, or heu, me miserum.[citation needed]

According to Chabad.org,[unreliable source?] an alternative theory for the origin of the Yiddish expression is that "oy" stems from Biblical Hebrew, and that "vey" is its Aramaic equivalent.[1] It is alternatively spelled אוי, הוי, or הו in Biblical Hebrew [4] and ווי, וי, ואי, and ויא in Aramaic. [5] The term is occasionally doubled, as הו הו in Amos 5:16 and וי וי in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on that verse, but two versions were never combined classically.


The expression is often abbreviated to simply oy, or elongated to oy vey iz mir ("Oh, woe is me").[6] The fuller lament is sometimes found as the more Germanic oy vey ist mir.[7][8] The main purpose or effect of elongating it is often dramatic, something like a "cosmic ouch".[6][9] Oy is not merely an ordinary word, but rather expresses an entire world view, according to visual anthropologist Penny Wolin.[10] 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "What Does Oy Vey Mean?". Chabad.org. Retrieved 2013-04-19.
  2. ^ See Proverbs 23:29, where King Solomon asks, "To whom is oy and to whom is avoy?"
  3. ^ "Oy". Douglas Harper Online Etymology Dictionary. Archived from the original on 2011-09-25. Retrieved 10 Oct 2011.
  4. ^ "Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon". Retrieved 2020-12-08.
  5. ^ "A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature". Retrieved 2020-12-08.
  6. ^ a b c Stevens, Payson et al. Meshuggenary: Celebrating the World of Yiddish, p. 34 (Simon and Schuster 2002).
  7. ^ Rozakis, Laurie. The Portable Jewish Mother, p. 274 (Adams Media 2007).
  8. ^ Kaplan, Alice. French Lessons: A Memoir, p. 5 (University of Chicago Press 1994).
  9. ^ Jacobs, Meredith. The Modern Jewish Mom's Guide to Shabbat, p. 229 (HarperCollins 2007).
  10. ^ Wolin, Penny. The Jews of Wyoming: Fringe of the Diaspora, p. 196 (Crazy Woman Creek Press 2000).

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of oy vey at Wiktionary