An Ode to ‘Oy’

An Ode to ‘Oy’

oyDear Editor:

One of my favorite words is oy. Yes, it’s an exclamation of disappointment, dismay or exasperation, but it’s also many other things.

We use oy when things aren’t going so well. It seems older Jews use it much more than younger Jews, perhaps because they always have a pain somewhere.

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I use it myself not just to express my discomfort, but also to ease my pain. What’s more, it lets others know I’m suffering, which is a good thing – that way, I’ve got someone with whom to share my problem.

When a person hears another say oy, it tells them, “Here is a man who is suffering, but he isn’t letting it get him down. He’s tough.”

Plus, it’s from Yiddish, so I think there’s a feeling G-d will hear it.

Oy, like many special words, can be modified in intensity. First of all, saying it loud means more discomfort than saying it softly. It also means that I want more people to know about it.

Oy-yoi-yoi-yoi-yoi-yoi-yoi (or any multi-syllabic utterance of the term) suggests a more lasting discomfort. Oy vey suggests that things are “hitting the fan”; it says this is not your average oy.

Finally, the really big oy is oy gevalt. It says, “Something must be done to stop this situation!”

Considering such utility, it’s a shame oy is “confined” to only some of us Jews. I mean, I use it a dozen times a day – it must be doing something. I recommend everyone try it; you might first try it out alone, say when you stub your toe.

Next, try sneaking it into your conversation when something comes up that displeases you. And when you get more comfortable with it, try an oy-yoi-yoi. For big things, you can then go to oy vey – but save the oy gevalt for the big bang.

I think you will soon find the joy of oy overwhelming. You’ll be hooked on it. It gives you a dimension you never had before.

Your pain will decrease; you’ll receive support from your friends and perhaps become closer to them; and you’ll even look like you’re linguistically liberal.

So start the day with a nice oy – because something must hurt you when you wake up in the morning. Something always hurts me.

I think you’ll like it.


Shia Elson, Atlanta


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