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What Does “Oy Vey” Mean?

What Does “Oy Vey” Mean?


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!

See Proverbs 23:29, where King Solomon asks, “To whom is oy and to whom is avoy?”
By Staff
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Discussion (28)
August 27, 2016
You said (woe) when you meant (whoa)
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.
קיבוץ הראל
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!!😊
Gulf Shores, Al
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.
Fernando Jimenez
Central Valley Cali
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!
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 Oi vey is obsolete?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.
Steve Shapiro - Northeast Philly Jew
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!
emily kalla
December 30, 2015
As much as I'm sure you'd like it to be, "American" is not a language.
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.
Jonathan Skeet
Not Germany
December 30, 2015
I read that it means. "Watch out"