ơi is one of my favourite Vietnamese words.
Why do Vietnamese people say ơi?
Let’s look at the most common uses of the Vietnamese word ơi.
1. Em ơi
(Or anh ơi or chị ơi.)
A common phrase and essential to anyone spending time in Vietnam, yelling ‘anh ơi’ or ’em ơi’ at a waiter to get his attention sounds rude to an English speaker’s ear because the word ‘oi’ in English has negative connotations.
I miss this simple but clear way to get someone’s attention. In English the best we have is ‘excuse me’.
2. Trời ơi
If you spend any time in the south of Vietnam, you’ll hear a universal exclamation trời ơi.
Literally speaking, ơi is used when addressing the heavens. This meanis something like OMG or “heavens!”.
This southern phrase is a mild phrase, widely used by young and old alike.
In the north you might hear ối giời ơi.
3. To show affection
So far we’ve seen ơi used to get attention.
It may surprise you that ơi is used as a term of affection. Between parents and children. Between friends. Between lovers.
Calling your special someone ’em ơi’ or ‘anh ơi’ is actually very sweet and endearing! Like saying ‘dear’.
Over to you: Did you know all of these meanings of ơi?