Nobody expects the Yinglish interjection

An e-mail exchange on 9/28 between Richard Vytniorgu and me, thinking out loud together on various topics, including the prejudice within the LGBT community against  the twinkish, the sexually receptive, the submissive, and the effeminate amongst us queers — all, apparently, on the grounds that such men are wanting in conventional masculinity and so are defective even as queers; they’re just too gay-acting, in the view of some of our number. Richard is an effeminate submissive sexually receptive twink, so he’s got a huge emotional investment in the matter; I am merely a bottom by preference, but I’ve been becoming increasingly militant and outspoken in this arena, moving towards the view that Richard and his kind should be seen as central to the larger community, not as peripheral misfits.

But that’s not what I’m after in *this* posting. Instead, it’s what happened in this exchange between us:

RV: I feel for Tannor [Reed] as I do for all twinks in the [gay porn] industry. Gays can be so hypocritical sometimes: they love to watch us, but will publicly punish or shame us when it suits them. You may have heard of [twink X; his story isn’t the point here, just his being treated with contempt]

AZ: Oi.

RV: What does this mean?

Here’s where I need to remind you that Richard is British and I am American.

I was typing fast, letting ideas and emotions tumble out, without reflection or editing, as I reacted to Richard’s mail. At several points I just blurted out American wordings, even when I was, somewhere in the back of my mind, entirely aware that some of them would baffle or mislead Richard. So it is with my oi.

I knew, but did not bring to conscious awareness, that Richard has an oi, but it isn’t mine — it’s specifically British — while mine is largely American, even to some extent an East Coast thing (I grew up in southeastern Pennsylvania, about 70 miles from Philadelphia, 120 from New York City; these aren’t huge distances in my country — I mean, I now live about 3,000 miles from New York City).

British oi. From NOAD:

excl. oi (also [spelled] oy): British informal used to attract someone’s attention, especially in a rough or angry way: oi, don’t lean out.

Roughly similar to hey (which is used on both sides of the Atlantic). Apparently the descendant of earlier hoy.

American oi, a variant spelling of oy. Again from NOAD:

excl. oy vey (also oy [alternative spelling oi]: indicating dismay or grief [AZ: or frustration, pain, or worry]. ORIGIN late 19th century: Yiddish, literally ‘oh woe’.

OED3 (March 2005) has a slightly different history:

Etymology: < Yiddish oy, an outcry or exclamation of surprise, joy, dismay, or horror.

That is, treating the relationship to oy vey as involving abbreviation in Yiddish, not English.

Otherwise, you could characterize this oy! as a fuck! of lamentation.

Artistic bonus. From my 11/13/15 posting “The art of interjection”, discussion of this OY / YO (depending on how you look at it) statue by Deborah Kass:

That’s the American oy, plus this yo, from NOAD:

excl. yo: informal used to greet someone, attract their attention, or express excitement: “Yo, Ben!” “Hey Eugene, I thought it was you.”.

10 Responses to “Nobody expects the Yinglish interjection”

  1. Gary Says:

    In German “Eu Weh” (same pronunciation) is an expression used when faced with a surprise that you expect will have unpleasant consequences..

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      The German version looks like it’s a lot closer to the older Yiddish usage; the abbreviated expression softened a bit in Yinglish, towards something like rueful surprise.

  2. RF Says:

    A brief look at online dictionaries indicates that “oy” is just pronounced like “boy,” but I’ve occasionally heard (American) speakers give a slightly different pronunciation, almost similar to a French “œil.” I can hear it in the second (female) pronunciation here: I’m not sure if this is closer to the Yiddish pronunciation.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Actually, that *is* a Yiddish pronunciation, and is billed as such. Though I know some Americans who will in fact use a Yiddish pronunciation for the word or the whole phrase, in effect quoting from a foreign language, the way some people do with French borrowings.

  3. Mitch4 Says:

    A different OY:

  4. Mitch4 Says:

    The variants on OY that I heard growing up in the 1950s and 60s in Miami included a quick triple which I might /now/ try to spell out as “Oy oy oy!”. But the sound was not simply a rhyme for “boy” but like what is described in RF’s comment and AZ’s reply. Additionally, the off-glide was heard (and maybe said!) as pulled over to the beginning of the following syllable. So that if I had tried to spell it out, in quasi-standard American orthography at the time, I might have come up with “Uhy yuhy yuhy!”.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      There’s really no way to reliably represent a fronted rounded vowel nucleus in conventional English spelling. Meanwhile, the resyllabication of the offglide as a syllable onset is a regular feature of connected speech, in which oy oy oy (similarly, ay ay ay) is treated as a single phonological word (like Toyota).

      • Robert Coren Says:

        I am reminded of a pronunciation characteristic of a certain type of New York accent (which may be specific to Jews who grew up on the Lower East Side; I know it because both of my paternal grandparents had it, as did Groucho Marx). My IPA isn’t up to transcribing this sound, but it’s a modification of the er phoneme of such words as word and third, and it’s kind of like the /ɔɪ/ I associate with “oy”, but it’s not the same; it’s somewhat further forward, I guess, and maybe has a hint of /ɛ/. Perhaps this is what RF is referring to above, but in my memory it didn’t extend to the exclamation “oy” itself. (In my ear it’s also different from the stereotypical Brooklyn “toity-toid”, which I think is more nearly a true /ɔɪ/.)

      • arnold zwicky Says:

        To Robert Coren: there’s a *lot* of dialect variation here, complexly distributed by geography and other factors, and, yes, Lower East Side Jews are one of the relevant dialect groups. I *think* that the the variant of /ɔɪ/ that RF is referring to has the nucleus fronted to mid (I have it myself as a “Yiddishy” variant of my usual back nucleus in the interjection oy), but that the Groucho Marx etc. variant is fully fronted. But to say more than this you’d need to consult a dialectologist who knows this territory, which I am not.

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