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What Does “Oy Vey” Mean?

What Does “Oy Vey” Mean?

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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
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Discussion (23)
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 Oi vey is obsolete?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
francfort
December 30, 2015
As much as I'm sure you'd like it to be, "American" is not a language.
Anonymous
NY
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"
Anonymous
Conneaut
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.
Anonymous
Florida
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!
Nechamah Goldfarb
Brooklyn
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.
Anonymous
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.
lucidus bloc
germany
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
rrP E laqiM
Boston, MA