The other day, tiresomely, someone hacked the Twitter account of the National Football League and tweeted that Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, was dead. The tweet was deleted. Then the perpetrator sent out another tweet:

Oi, I said Roger Goodell has died. Don’t delete that tweet.

If the NFL has a forensic team working on the case, I would advise them to concentrate their efforts in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Africa, because that, according to Wikipedia, is where people say “oi.”

According to the OED, the word originated as the naval interjection “hoy!” (related to “ahoy”). “Oi” was originally associated with Cockney argot, and the first OED citation is a bit of dialect from the Evening Standard in 1937: “Oi, there’s a lidy ‘ere wants some juice on the knocker!” The same year, it appeared in the lyrics to the song “Doing the Lambeth Walk,” from “Me and My Girl,” a musical about a Cockney barrow boy who inherits an earldom:

Once you get down Lambeth way
Every evening, every day,
You’ll find yourself
Doing the Lambeth Walk. oi!

Since then it has provided the name to a British punk-rock subgenre and more generally gone mainstream. You can hear it shouted in streets and sporting events of Commonwealth countries, especially Australia, where “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!” is a popular chant. But you don’t hear it in the U.S.

So get on it, NFL security. Your work is cut out for you.

19 thoughts on ““Oi”

  1. In Brazil, “oi” is very much used and is the same as “hi” in the U.S. We say for example: “Oi, tudo bem?” It means, “Hi, is everything fine with you?” It can also be used as a way of calling people’s attention: “Oi, você não ouviu o que disse?” It means: “Hello, didn’t you hear what I said?” By the way, we speak Portuguese in Brasil [Brazilian Portuguese]. Once, in Argentina, I said “Oi” to a person on the street who wanted to sell me something. He said: “Ah, you’re Brazilian. Argentinians don’t say oi”. Oi is also an expression we use when we don’t understand what somebody said: “Oi?”, it means “What? What did you say?” Maybe this won’t be of any help. After all, Brazilians aren’t into American football. But, who knows?

    1. “on the knocker’ usually means a cash payment made on demand. SO you would expect to see the phrase “cash on the knocker” Could “juice here being used as slang for cash?

    1. Pretty much the same Cathi but the meaning is very different. Oi is a way of getting someone’s attention Oy is exasperation (???)

  2. In some parts of England, we might be more likely to use “hoy”, as we don’t drop our aitches. Also, “hey” is widely used.

  3. This is a great word and widely used like John said-with its “hoy” variation et al. As an American living in Britain, I just can’t say it. I also say “elevator” as I just cant make myself say “lift.”

    1. Go on say lift, it will make you feel better. After all it saves you two syllables whilst not making you sound any less erudite. That has to be a bonus in our busy modern world, where we all want to sound sophisticated but have so many calls on our valuable time.

      1. Many thanks, Peter from Oz. I like it…and will endeavour to say “lift.” But really now, I really can’t make myself say “rubbish”-“trash” is more my game…plus it is also one syllable.

      2. Go on say lift… After all it saves you two syllables

        “Lift” is a 2-syllable word?
        Learn something new every day.
        Which syllable gets the accent?

    2. About 20 years ago, I was attending a science fiction convention in San Francisco. As often happens with these events in the US, when the big event each evening ends, everyone tries to get to the parties on the upper floors, leading to a big bottleneck in the hotel foyer.

      These events are all volunteer run, and I found myself being volunteered to help marshal the crowds. I’m English but I remembered to say, “Stand in line here for the elevators.” However, after an hour of saying this, I cracked. I just had to say, “Queue here for the lifts.”

  4. Coming very late to the party here, but just wanted to mention there are various shades of meaning of “oi”.

    It can be used simply as a shout to get someone’s attention — it’s a quick, sharp sound that carries well. If I noticed a stranger had dropped their wallet, for instance, and they were already halfway down the street, I might shout “Oi!”

    BUT it can also be aggressive. “Oi” is the first sign that somebody’s spoiling for a fight in the pub. The tweet you quoted is that sort of “oi”, with an implication that deleting this new one will lead to big trouble. I suppose the US equivalent is “hey, you”.

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