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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 (אוי ואבוי, ój waävój).[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] The Latin equivalent is heu, vae! (pronounced, "hoi, vai", amongst others); a more standard expression would be o, me miserum, or heu, me miserum.[citation needed]

According to, 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]


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.

Popular culture

Weird Al Yankovic's song "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi" on his album Running with Scissors frequently uses the phrase.[9]

See also


  1. ^ a b "What Does Oy Vey Mean?", 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. ^ CNNCNN – "Weird Al: Living up to his name": July 12, 1999