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Oy-yey Lady? Oyez Man?
January 17, 2013 5:31 AM   Subscribe

My grandmother (born in 1905) used to refer to herself as the "Oy-yey Lady" (I'm spelling phonetically here) every time she had to clean up something particularly gross (usually animal related). I'm wondering if it's a real word or something she made up.

I thought of this last night as I scooped the litter box (seriously, I need the shovel the man behind the elephants uses) and wondered if it was maybe of Yiddish or Russian origin? It's also plausible she made it up, as she had a unique vocabulary. My mother thinks it might derive from the "oyez man" - maybe someone who cleaned outhouses? - but Google thinks that term refers to a town crier type person. So, I turn to the hive. Any idea of where that term could have come from and what it meant? I don't think it's her bastardization of "Oy vey," because she knew and used that phrase as well. She grew up upper-middle class Protestant (or possibly non-devout Catholic) in Baltimore. Sources especially welcome, so I can share with Mom. Thanks!
posted by Sweetie Darling to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Oye, lady!" would be Spanish for "listen, lady!" or "hey, lady!" I can see "hey, lady!" being a kind of slang for a cleaning woman/maid in general.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 5:35 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Did she have any Polish relatives? The Polish "ojej" sounds like oy yey and fits the situations when she used it. Thinking there could be a Russian equivalent.
posted by travelwithcats at 5:46 AM on January 17, 2013


in Baltimore

There's a nice solid Polish community in Baltimore, so even were she not Polish herself she may have heard it around.
posted by OmieWise at 5:53 AM on January 17, 2013


My guess is that it's a long-remembered line from something like a Jerry Lewis movie or TV show, i.e., an exasperated Nutty Professor exclaims "Oy vey lady!" as the flubber bounces around, etc.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:05 AM on January 17, 2013


> The Polish "ojej" sounds like oy yey and fits the situations when she used it.

According to your link, it means "Oh, dear" or "oops" or "Oh my gosh," which doesn't really sound all that appropriate. I mean, you might exclaim that if you saw a mess, but why would someone cleaning up a mess be called the "ojej lady"? If it's from an exclamation, I'd say peanut_mcgillicuty's Spanish suggestion is more likely.

> Thinking there could be a Russian equivalent.

Nope, nothing like that in Russian.
posted by languagehat at 6:28 AM on January 17, 2013


Similar to the Polish expression, there is "Oh je" in German. I could imagine her being the oy yey lady if she's the one being called when there's trouble or a mess to be cleaned up. As in oh je, oh je, what do we do now?
posted by meijusa at 6:37 AM on January 17, 2013


could it be related to aye yai yai? I sort of accent that towards oy sometimes (influenced by oy vey, which seems too dramatic if you're not a jewish grandparent), for a kind of oy-yai yai, said in the most "oh no, not this" type way...
posted by mdn at 7:03 AM on January 17, 2013


My grandmother, born in 1905, who spoke Polish at home (but not in Baltimore) used "ojej" as "oh shit" most often. She died in 1999, but my dad says it's actually pretty versatile but basically meaningless, and that his mother and grandmother used it for everything from OMG! to Wow! to Damn! to Waah? to Yuck! to Oh Shit!

So, if your grandmother was prone to coining her own phrases the "ojej lady" would be sensical in context to someone like my Dad. Saying "This is a job for the 'oh shit!' lady" when cleaning up someone else's yuck makes sense to him.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:05 AM on January 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


I mean, you might exclaim that if you saw a mess, but why would someone cleaning up a mess be called the "ojej lady"?

There's plenty of precedent. It's fairly common, if a bit cutesy, to refer to a mistake or the result of a mistake (including, specifically, shit where shit is not supposed to be) as "an oopsie."
posted by redfoxtail at 7:28 AM on January 17, 2013


(Or indeed, look at the yuck in crush-onastick's "someone else's yuck" right above.)
posted by redfoxtail at 7:28 AM on January 17, 2013


Crush-onastick, you may have it. It's definitely the right context and Polish makes more sense than Russian. Ironically my other grandmother was Polish (also from Bmore) but I never heard her use the expression.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 8:57 AM on January 17, 2013


Is it possible this is yiddish?

EDIT: nevermind, I just read more closely, not yiddish, though perhaps a homeade contraction of the yiddish 'oy' and 'yea'
posted by jalitt at 10:04 AM on January 17, 2013


There's also the semi-Yiddish "Oy yoy yoy", meaning obvious, which was notably used as a segment title by Al Franken on his radio show (for the character Uncle Al, who responded to news items with variations on "oy" or "oy yoy yoy").
posted by dhartung at 10:59 AM on January 17, 2013


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