English is a lot of fun to explore, especially when you find words and phrases that come from foreign backgrounds. Take aye yai yai as an example. It’s well known now, especially in American English, but it didn’t originate from there!
What Does Aye Yai Yai Mean?
Aye yai yai means that someone is experiencing dismay or disappointment. It’s an exclamation that is similar to “oh no” or “oh my god.” It comes from Mexican Spanish and has been used in American English for decades as a way to show that something bad has happened to someone.
How Do You Spell Aye Yai Yai?
Spelling aye yai yai is where things get interesting. The most common variations are either Aye Yai Yai as we’ve spelled it in this article or ay-ay-ay, which is more commonly used in origin. The spelling isn’t often too important, as it’s something we usually say rather than write.
Since Aye yai yai is an exclamation, it most commonly comes from our mouths rather than our hands. We don’t often type out exclamations (although when we do, we might abbreviate like how oh my god is OMG).
However, it’s still important to know the spelling, just in case you ever find the proper context to write it down. These are some of the spellings that you can use for it, and it’s up to you whichever one you like the look of most.
- Aye yai yai
- Aye yi yi
If you’re confused about the pronunciation of the words, then look at the last example listed. Using the letter “I” three times is the best way to explain the word and how it sounds. All three words together sound like you’re saying “I” repeatedly, so make sure you use it in this way when you say it.
Examples Of How To Use Aye Yai Yai
Now let’s look at some examples of aye yai yai in use. Typically, we use this as an exclamation phrase in response to something that has happened to us. Generally, whatever that thing is is terrible and has made us exclaim in dismay or disapproval.
- Aye yai yai! I can’t believe you’ve done this to me again! Now I have to change before the party!
- What do you mean you can’t help me with my homework? Aye yi yi, I thought you’d know the answers!
- Ayiyi, my head hurts so much this morning! I don’t think I’ll be able to go out with you tonight!
- Ay-ay-ay, you can’t be serious! This cost me a lot of money, and now you’re telling me it’s fake?!
- Aye-aye-aye! I can’t believe what I’m seeing! I need to wash my eyes out!
- How many times do I have to tell you! I-I-I, you’ll never learn, will you?
- Aye yai yai! How could I be so blind! Now I know why you’ve been sneaking off after all this time!
- Aye yai yai! I can’t believe my ears! You’re telling me she did that to him?!
- What are you saying about me? Aye yai yai! I thought we were friends!
As you can see, we use aye yai yai to respond to negative news or trauma. It’s a typical exclamation that you might hear commonly in American English or Mexican Spanish. People use it more frequently in Central or Latin America, though the reach of the word has extended to multiple Western audiences.
For the most part, an exclamation like this should be a natural response. If you usually would say something like “oh my god” or “no way!” or any other kind of exclamation, then it might be wiser to stick with them.
If you’re forcing yourself to say “aye yai yai,” then it might come out as fake, and people might call you up on it. However, if you’re writing a character who might use it appropriately, then you can use it without issue there. The only thing you have to remember in this case is how to spell it (and that’s mostly personal preference).
While there isn’t much problem with anybody using it, many people believe that its roots in Mexican Spanish mean that it’s reserved for only them. If you don’t have Mexican Spanish origin in your blood and you’re speaking to someone who does, maybe it’s a good idea not to use a phrase like this just to be safe!
What Is The Origin Of Aye Yai Yai?
So, where exactly did the phrase come from? Well, we’ve already mentioned that it comes from Mexican Spanish, but that’s not where the origin story ends.
There is a popular traditional Mexican song released in 1882, known as “Cielito Lindo” and written by Quirino Mendoza y Cortés. In the chorus, the phrase “ay, ay, ay, ay” is used.
While the song uses four “ay” sounds instead of three like today’s common saying, it still holds the same meaning. The idea was to show dismay in the chorus and set up the song nicely. Over time, that fourth “ay” sound was removed from the saying to make it easier for most people to say.
After the initial usage of that song, the next time it was seen in mainstream media was in Speedy Gonzales in the 1950s. Speedy Gonzales was a cartoon about the fastest mouse in Mexico. In one of the episodes, drunk mice sang the same song, “Cielito Lindo,” and paid homage to it. When they got to the chorus, they repeated the saying.
After that, it was found again on television; this time, it was much more mainstream in America. The mascot of Fritos corn chips (known as Frito Bandito) sang a snippet of the song and included the well-known phrase. This happened between 1967 and 1971 when the advert was aired that featured it.
It’s mostly due to the cartoon Speedy Gonzales and the 4-year advertisement campaign that “aye yai yai” became such a prevalent phrase in North America. Even though its roots were more central in America, it didn’t take long for everyone to start using it after that!
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.