The Meaning of Oy Vey: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of oy vey? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the term oy vey, including its definition, usage, etymology, example sentences, and more!

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What does the phrase oy vey mean?

According to Definitions, The Free Dictionary, and Chabad, the phrase oy vey means “oh woe.” This is a very old Jewish interjection. This is a very ethnically Jewish way to react to bad news, whether big or small. Sometimes you might also hear variances on oy vey such as “oi vey,” “oy veh,” “oy vay,” or “oy vavoy,” the Hebrew form of oy vey. You might also hear the Yiddish term “oy vey iz mir,” or “oy vey ist mir,” which means “oh woe is me.” This exclamation of dismay has become popular with both Jewish people and non-Jews alike. Try using this word of the day or other new words in a sentence today!

How can the phrase oy vey be used in a sentence?

Oy vey can be used in many different scenarios to react in a disappointed or dismayed fashion to something. In this example, Miranda was trying to plan a surprise party for her mother. They are all waiting to jump out and surprise her when she gets a call from her grandmother, who is in the car with her mother.

Miranda: Bubbe, hi. How’s the drive?

Grandmother: It’s good, Miranda. We’re almost to the house so all of you had better hide so your mom is surprised!

Mom: Surprised by what?

Miranda: Oy vey.

Here, Miranda uses the term oy vey because her grandmother ruined the surprise just as they were on their way to the party. In this next example, Miranda finds that her car has been towed. She calls the towing company.

Miranda: Hi, my car has been towed. Where can I go to pick this up?

Towing Company: We’re located in Long Beach, but we’re closed for the day and all weekend. You can come back on Monday to get your car, and it’ll be $400.

Miranda: You’re telling me I have to go all weekend without a car and pay $400? Oy vey.

What are synonyms for the term oy vey?

There are many  different words that a person can use in place of the term oy vey. These are called synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same meaning as another word or phrase. Synonyms are very useful to know for a term like oy vey because not everyone is familiar with this Yiddish phrase. Synonyms are also useful to know in order to expand your vocabulary as well as to avoid repeating yourself. This list of synonyms for the term oy vey is provided by Word Hippo Thesaurus

  • hell
  • strike me pink
  • shoot
  • FFS
  • blinking hell
  • blooming heck
  • doggone
  • oh my
  • for goodness’ sake
  • oy gevalt
  • blast
  • pish
  • gosh-darn
  • shucks
  • dash it
  • for Goddess’s sake
  • dagnabbit
  • for Christ’s sake
  • for God’s sake
  • for crying out loud
  • oi
  • good God
  • Gordon Bennett
  • confound it
  • cripes
  • damn it
  • for mercy’s sake
  • tarnation
  • goodness me
  • my God
  • for heaven’s sake
  • flipping hell
  • great Scott
  • flip
  • frick
  • doggone it
  • butter my butt and call me a biscuit
  • Jesus Christ
  • heck
  • God
  • dang
  • flipping heck
  • dammit
  • damnation
  • dash
  • oofta
  • blinking heck
  • darnation
  • for Pete’s sake
  • for Heaven’s sake
  • for pity’s sake
  • for crying in the beer
  • Christ almighty
  • drat
  • blooming hell
  • botheration
  • sugar
  • thunderation
  • bloody hell
  • poo
  • good grief
  • good gracious
  • blimey
  • bother
  • my goodness
  • rat

What is the origin of the term oy vey?

According to Dictionary and Word Sense, the term oy vey is a Yiddish word. In Hebrew, this word is written as אױ װײ and literally means “oh, woe.” This word is uttered as a defeated sigh, and there is evidence for its borrowing into English dating back to the early 1900s. While fewer than 200,000 Americans actually speak Yiddish, it is a very common phrase among both American Jewish and non-Jewish speakers. This term became very popular among Jewish comedians like Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. The term oy is also found many different times in the bible, from Numbers 21:29, to Samuel 4:7 and Isaiah 3:11. Yiddish has strong relations to German, so it is not surprising that we see similar phrases in German and Dutch, such as oh weh‎, ach weh, au weh and oh wee

What are other Yiddish phrases?

There are many other Yiddish phrases that one might hear in everyday life. If you were not raised hearing Yiddish, these might be confusing. However, looking at this list from Best Life Online will get you up to speed quickly!

  • Bubbe – Grandmother
  • Bupkis – Nothing
  • Chutzpah – Nerve
  • Goy – Non-Jewish person (plural: goyim)
  • Keppie – Forehead
  • Klutz – Clumsy person
  • Kvell – To burst with pride
  • Kvetch – To complain
  • Mazel Tov – Congratulations
  • Mensch – Honorable and admirable person
  • Meshuggeneh – Insane
  • Mishegas – Insanity, graziness
  • Mishpocheh (alt. mishpokhe, mishpucha) – Family
  • Nosh – To eat
  • Plotz – To collapse from exhaustion or laughter
  • Punim – Face
  • Schmutz – Dirt
  • Schlep – To carry or lug
  • Schmatte – Rag
  • Shmendrik – Jerk, idiot
  • Schmooze – To chat in a friendly or persuasive way
  • Schvitz – To sweat
  • Schtick – Gimmick
  • Spiel – Long speech or story
  • Tachlis – Essence, practicalities
  • Tchotchke – Knickknack, trinket
  • Tuches – Rear, behind
  • Verklempt – Overwhelmed
  • Zayde – Grandfather

Overall, the phrase oy vey is a Yiddish phrase that means “oh woe.” This is used as an expression of dismay amongst many Jewish communities, as well as by people who are not Jewish. However, this is culturally a very Jewish phrase. 

Sources:

  1. https://www.wordhippo.com/what-is/another-word-for/oh_no.html#/
  2. https://www.wordsense.eu/oy_vey/
  3. https://www.dictionary.com/e/slang/oy-vey/#:~:text=Oy%20vey%20comes%20from%20the,back%20to%20the%20early%201900s.
  4. https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/699508/jewish/What-Does-Oy-Vey-Mean.htm
  5. https://www.definitions.net/definition/oy+vey
  6. https://www.thefreedictionary.com/oy+vey
  7. https://bestlifeonline.com/yiddish-words/