The Story of "Oy Vey"


December 30, 2022

Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Deborah Kass' "OY YO" sculpture sits in Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn, New York, on April 15, 2016.

Oy vey! - also: Oy vavoy! Oy vey iz mir! Oy gevalt! Or quite simply: Oy! - is an iconic Jewish expression that conveys the weariness of a people overly familiar with hardship and oppression, as well as the resilience of a people that finds hope and sometimes even humor in catastrophe. It's both heavy and light. It's tragic and funny. It's so much better with a thick Yiddish accent. But where did it come from?

The word "oy" goes back thousands of years, all the way to the Hebrew Bible. In that classical biblical mode, there is nothing funny about it - "oy" is simply an expression of angui...

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