While writing an email lamenting that there aren’t more hours in the day, or at least fewer smart people saying interesting things on the intarweb and the literature, I signed off “Oy.”
Then, as I was doing a last editing pass, I thought of changing it to “Argh.” Or perhaps even “Arrrrrgh.”
Which got me thinking about the difference between “oy” and “argh.” If you were translating a Woody Allen movie to a language where “oy” wouldn’t work, could you substitute “argh”?
The basic concept is certainly the same. They both express profound frustration. On the other hand. “Oy” has a resigned feeling to it; it sounds like a sad slump of the shoulder. “Argh” is closer to what a caged animal might say.
Does this reflect a fundamental cultural difference in how people handle frustration?
When I took a Yiddish class in college (because of the many situations the language would come in handy), the professor mentioned that there’s no Yiddish word for “happiness.” “Glicklich” is the closest, which translates literally as “lucky.” Which is to say, in an eastern European shtetl, happiness was the absence of bad luck, not some positive state of happiness. Think of any early Woody Allen character for an example.
Is “oy” untranslatable? What about “argh”? How do other languages handle these sorts of non-verbal expressions of frustration?