Essay

I Appropriated My Partner’s “Oy!”

My partner and I come from very different worlds. She was born and raised in Russia into her teen years. I resided at the same address in New Jersey until I was 25.

As a result, we have some different mannerisms. I strongly articulate my words, which started as a way to shun any formation of a Jersey accent. My partner, K (as I’ll call her), has a hard time making the English words “shirt” and “short” sound different.

One of her most commonly used words is “Oy.” I struggle to call it a word, as it’s mostly just a sound, but Merriam-Webster considers it an interjection “used especially to express exasperation or dismay.”

Before meeting K, I had never used this word in my life outside of the occasional comedic “Oy vey!” Now, I cannot stop saying it.

What started as my fondness for the humorous effect of K crying out “Oy!” when she lifted a surprisingly heavy bag of groceries has turned into a total appropriation. In our secret love language, “oy” (although we prefer to use an “oi” spelling) can be an expression of almost anything:

“Oy! I forgot my keys in the house.”
“Did you read about the [day’s biggest headline] yet? Oy.”
“You left this surprise for me?! Oy! Thank you!”

It’s the kind of utterance that relies deeply on our intimate knowledge of one another and our communication styles to interpret the meaning. It’s also the perfect vessel for conveying emotion: monosyllabic and free of consonants, it’s simple to say.

Because of that, I don’t think I could ever eliminate it from my vocabulary now. Despite my copy-cat use, K takes pleasure in how I declare my frustration, confusion, and joy in the simplest form — “Oy!”

 

So tell me, does your partner have an expression or phrase you started to copy? And, now that the private communication of couples is on my mind, I wonder: Do you have a word/sound/phrase with your partner that outsiders could never understand?

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