Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Contact Us

What Does “Oy Vey” Mean?

What Does “Oy Vey” Mean?

 Email

Oy and vey are two very old Jewish interjections which both mean “woe.” Oy is found many times in the Bible (see Numbers 21:29, I Samuel 4:7 and Isaiah 3:11 for a few examples). Vey is newer than oy; it is oy’s Aramaic equivalent.

Today, oy and vey are often used together. Oy vey is the ethnically Jewish way to react when you find out how much your son’s root canal will cost, or when you find out that there is a two-hour wait time for a table at the restaurant where you just arrived.

Sometimes you’ll hear people groan “oy vavoy,” which is Hebrew for “oy vey.”1 Those who prefer Yiddish lamentations will often cry “vey iz mir,” which means “woe is to me.”

Alternatively, some view "oy vey" as being entirely Yiddish (Judeo-German) in origin. In their view, "vey" is a cognate for the English "woe," with "oy" being a general interjection of despair. "Oy vey" would thus be a direct Yiddish parallel to "oh woe."

Let’s pray that G‑d sends us Moshiach already, so we can stop waxing eloquent about our woes and expand our vocabulary of positive interjections!

Footnotes
1.
See Proverbs 23:29, where King Solomon asks, “To whom is oy and to whom is avoy?”
By Chabad.org Staff
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
30 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Anonymous Indiana April 22, 2017

a recent crossword clue, oy vey was for "that's not good". Reply

Tom AZ March 14, 2017

Vey Saw a movie on JLtv in Yiddish with English subtitles. At least 10 times the heroine said "vey" and the subtitle said "Stop", not"woe". Can someone please explain this? Reply

Marc Ct August 27, 2016

You said (woe) when you meant (whoa) Reply

Jonathan קיבוץ הראל May 29, 2016

Oy vey In parashat Hokotai I heard the Hebrew word for "your enemies" a number of times and was intrigued by its closeness to oy vey (oiveichem). I guess that it is no more than a play on words. Reply

Anonymous Gulf Shores, Al March 16, 2016

Thank you! Thank you!! Finally the relevance & the desire for G_d to send Moshiach (Messiah) "already…so we can…expand our vocabulary of positive interjections". There are no words!!😊 Reply

Fernando Jimenez Central Valley Cali March 10, 2016

Thanks Steve for sharing and setting that fool straight! I also believe that we should not loose or heritage, and I personally enjoy learning other cultures and languages. God bless you my brother. Reply

Tfuller Az February 24, 2016

Lol Steve Shapiro!I could not have said it any better! My Jewish/American born Mother's first and only language until she was 6, was Yiddish! I love Yiddish! Reply

Steve Shapiro - Northeast Philly Jew January 1, 2016

I speak American? Oi vey is obsolete? Growing up my grandparents tod me that Yiddish was sometimes referred as "Bastardized German". And as far as discussing "obsolete languages", we speak English, first of all, not American. And Yiddish is part of our heritage,which we are losing contact with. Everyone in America came from somewhere else and should remember their history. I hate to say this, but thank God you signed it Anonymous. It should have been Anonymous Ass. Reply

emily kalla francfort December 31, 2015

from oy vay our german "au waia" was probably derived!
my family's roots are in the easternmost part of the
former sudetes (Czechia), and it's stunning how many
jiddish words their german contains! Reply

Anonymous NY December 30, 2015

As much as I'm sure you'd like it to be, "American" is not a language. Reply

Jonathan Skeet Not Germany December 30, 2015

Oy vey In Germany they say "Au weia" which means - loosley translated "Oh pain" I'd always assumed that the Yiddish was derived from the German, but apparently not. Reply

Anonymous Conneaut December 30, 2015

I read that it means. "Watch out" Reply

Anonymous Florida December 30, 2015

Please note that "vey" has the meaning of "pain," such as in "Es teet mir vey." Example: you have a sore tooth and someone asks you how it is. You answer "Es teet mir vey"--it's causing me pain. Or your best friend has moved thousands of miles away and you are asked how you feel about that; you answer "Es teet mir vey." (a metaphorical usage) It derives in this meaning from the German "veitung," also meaning pain. Reply

Nechamah Goldfarb Brooklyn December 30, 2015

One of my nephews, at a young age when first decoding Hebrew, said--I found Oy vey in the siddur! It ended up being oivei--enemies of--and I thought that was kind of fitting! Reply

Anonymous November 9, 2015

I speak American and American only, not englandish or Spanish or dutchish
I don't see why people need to learn the their languages therefore oh vey is obsolete. Reply

lucidus bloc germany October 12, 2015

I agree with Carlos, and from the "spoken" meaning it's transformed!! Not translated!! in englisch very simple "owie" [baby talk]" and that "is" "pain". Gernan saying "aua" original "ouch". Yiddish is a german dialect on a very low level. Reply

rrP E laqiM Boston, MA June 7, 2015

Do You Write In Hebrew? What does the Hebrew writing look like for "oy vay", or "oy vavoy"? A little research will find it. First I'll look up Ain Yod Vav Ain Yod" which adds up to 166, and proceed from there. It is interesting to know the numbers for the words. My forefathers were Sephardic Jews Reply

Carlos Tampa April 23, 2015

"Wei" is the German word for "pain"...I have noticed that Yiddish happens to be a mixture of European words. Jud pronounced "yud" itself means "Jewish" in German. So Yiddish stems from the German word "Judish" or "Jewish" in German. Since "Wei" happens to be the German word for "pain", when you say "Oy vey" you are actually saying "oh pain" predicting the pain that is to come. Reply

Carlos Tampa April 23, 2015

incorrect! Yiddish is a mixture of European languages and in this case, German."Vei" is the German word for "pain" so in effect you're saying "oh pain" in predicting and worrying about the pain that is to come Reply

Nikki March 3, 2015

My mother says "oy vey" a lot and we aren't even Jewish. :/ Reply