(אױ װײ) (or just "oy
") is an exclamation of dismay or exasperation (Webster's New Millennium Dictionary of English
) meaning "woe" or "oh my gosh". The first part of it (oy) is originally from Biblical Hebrew, with cognates in other Semitic languages. It is possible that this Semitic family of words is somehow related to the constellation of Indo-European words represented in English by "Woe" - although such a relationship would have to be very old and may be just an astonishing coincidence. The term in its present form is borrowed from Yiddish
, and is often described as "defying translation" or being an "untranslatable expression" but which is translated by Random House Unabridged Dictionary
as being "used to express dismay, pain, annoyance, grief, etc." and the Oxford English dictionary
describes it as an "exclamation used by Yiddish-speakers to express dismay or grief". In 2001
, California State Assembly Speaker
, Robert Hertzberg
-Van Nuys), compiled a 31 page Yiddish dictionary for his colleagues and of the word "oy vey" he wrote that it was "an untranslatable expression used for a variety of negative feelings." This interjection
is first noted in English between 1890
A related exclamation is "oy vey iz mir" - "Oh, woe is me" (Yiddish: אױ װײ'ז מיר) or just "vey iz mir" (װײ'ז מיר) — "woe is me". It is related to the expression "Oy gevalt" (Yiddsh: אױ גװאַלד oy gvald), which can have a similar meaning, or also express shock or amazement. "Oy!" is often just used by itself to express any of these feelings.
Use in popular culture
- In New York City, there is a sign on the Williamsburg Bridge which reads "Leaving Brooklyn: Oy vey!", due to the borough's large Jewish population.
- In the early-1960s American TV series McHale's Navy, the Japanese POW who is under the care of McHale's men, "Fuji", often utters the exclamation whenever Lieutanant Commander McHale's superior officer, Capt. Binghamton, comes to McHale's quarters.
- In 1992, the band Tin Machine released a live album titled Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby, a joke on U2's Achtung, Baby.
- In the first Futurama movie, Bender's Big Score, Bender can be heard uttering the phrase after Fry, who is trying to stop a wedding, replaces the pen which was to be used to sign the marriage license with a pen with no ink.
- In The Simpsons episode "Like Father, Like Clown," Krusty's father, Rabbi Hyman Krustofski, cries out "Oy vey iz mir!" when his son's identity is revealed at a comedy club.
- Weird Al Yankovic's song "Pretty Fly For A Rabbi" on his album Running With Scissors frequently uses the phrase.
- There is a Jewish parody of James Bond, who is called "Oy Oy Seven
- In Leo Rosten's The Joys of Yiddish, he says that a woman in labor who is crying "Oy!" is not yet ready for the doctor. Once she yells "Gevalt!" then it's time.
- In Madagascar, Gloria the hippo mutters it during a conversation with King Julien of the Lemurs.
- In What Women Want, when Mel Gibson's character is in his marital counselor's (Bette Midler) office and he hears what she thinks, she thinks "Oy Vey." He then says, "You can say that again."
- In Hercules, Phil exclaims while walking away "Okay, Oh Boy, Oy vey."
- In Fame: The Musical, Serena exclaims "oy vey" when she is told that her offstage love interest Nick will be playing Mercutio instead of her onstage lover Romeo in their school's production of Romeo and Juliet.
- In D2: The Mighty Ducks, Ken Wu mutters it during the final Iceland game as an Iceland player skates behind him.
- The Fuji Kobiaji character in McHale's Navy used the phrase extensively to express his exasperation.
- Radio personality Howard Stern frequently uses the phrase on his show to express disgust or frustration.
- The phrase Oy vey is used in the Monty Python song "Oliver Cromwell."
- In the US version of The Office, in the episode "Valentine's Day," for the final scene, character Michael Scott, who is noted for making unfunny jokes that he thinks are quite funny (but are often just politically incorrect) stands outside Minskoff Theatre in New York City, (playing Fiddler on the Roof), and says "Oy vey" and then after a long comedic pause concludes with "schmear", mistakeningly meaning to say "oy vey iz mir.
- "Oy gevalt" is the second to last line in the Perry Mason TV Series episode 1-19, "The Case of the Haunted Husband," originally aired January 25, 1958 . At the end of the case after the killer has been exposed, Lieutenant Tragg is gloating that Perry Mason must have discovered who did it by being lucky. Perry Mason asks Tragg if he thinks Mason is stupid for leaving a clue that Tragg found. Tragg says, "Well who else could have done it? There was only you, me, and (name of killer)...." When he realizes what he just said, Tragg moans, "Oy gevalt." The elevator door opens and Mason says, "After you Lieutenant."
- In the popular British sitcom 'Allo 'Allo! Season 1, Episode 3, Private Helga Geerhart exclaims "Oy vey" to express her surprise when she hears that Colonel Von Strohm and Captain Hans Gehring are having their army uniforms made in London by Jewish tailors Solomon & Klein.
- If computers were Jewish [jokes]: When your PC is multi-tasking, you would occasionally hear an "Oy Gevult."
- In the comic strip Oy, the main protagonist is named "Oy" due to his sometimes frustrating behavior.