‘Vay Baboo’ Still Says It All!

“Saturday is bath day
The wooden shoes and towel are in my hand
Hot, hot in front of the sink,
My mother rubs with the bath mitt
Vye baboo, oh daddy, vye baboo.”

—Sung by Onnik Dinkjian


My grandmother was a woman of sound expression. She seemed to have one for every occasion—good or bad.

When the moment went well, she would sing out her praises in two words: “Abrees hokees!” I came to know it as “Well done, my child.” It was always taken with a grain of salt.

But diffuse her anger and on came another pet adage. With a contoured look and steam coming from her ears, she’d screech out, “Vay baboo!”

I never paid it much heed, except to know that this medzmama was angry and voiced her disapproval. If I raided the cookie jar before bed, out it came. “Vay baboo!” Or rampaging through the house like a bull in a china shop. Again, “Vay baboo!”

Oh, there were other statements she muttered in Turkish, but we won’t get into those. Growing up under my grandmother’s tutelage made me tolerate her platitudes.

As age advanced, so did the expression. I found myself using it freely. We grew up with “baboo” or “daddy.” My grandmother’s words were simply put, “Vay baboo!” or “Oh, Daddy!” I never met the man. He didn’t survive the genocide in his native Dikranagerd.

Perhaps it was a subtle—or steamy—reflection of my great-grandfather.

Cover of Onnik Dinkjian's 'Diyarbekiri Hokin'
Cover of Onnik Dinkjian’s ‘Diyarbekiri Hokin’

The matter was put to rest until a few months ago. I happened to be at a church cookout when this Armenian musician had his earphones plugged in listening to a new CD by ageless crooner Onnik Dinkjian.

He’s Johnny Arzigian, a pretty popular singer and musician himself for a number of years. Next thing I know, he’s singing out the words “Vay Baboo!” I assumed there was something the matter with the recording he was listening to on his compact disk. Or somebody had just made him angry.

Not in the least. Arzigian was simply singing along to a new song recorded by Onnik called, “Vye Baboo.” He handed the earphones to me for a listen. I caught the last stanza in Armenian:

“I know you want to stay and look at the little sparrows. From now on, you’ll come to the bath with your father. Vye baboo! Oh daddy!”

The album is a surefire hit, perhaps the best this octogenarian has ever released. He collaborated with his son Ara Dinkjian to record “Diyarbekiri Hokin,” Armenian songs from Dikranagert.

There isn’t one weak tune on the compilation, but for obvious reasons “Vye Baboo” stuck right out. And Arzigian seemed like he was drifting away to another world.

“As a child, I remember my father on Saturday mornings going to the club to play cards,” he said. “I was a tag-along and would run errands for the players. I wasn’t old enough to enter the game but hung around anyway. Every once in a while, someone would look at their cards and cry out, ‘Vay baboo!’ Now, it just comes out automatically as a favorite saying.”

In what context is it used?

“It’s an exclamation,” Arzigian explained. “Like, ‘Oh, my God’ or ‘Holy mackerel.’ It carries an upsetting tone.”

Another friend offers this analogy to the idiom. She also grew up with it.

“The heartfelt feelings and words of our ancestors really hit home with me,” said Sharke Der Apkarian. “Everybody in my house used that expression. We grew up with it.”

In Sharke’s mind, the meaning is rather benign like, “Oh, geez,” or “Jiminy Cricket.”

“It definitely was not a vulgarity,” she added. “Back then, it may have meant ‘Dear God.’ Meanings somehow manage to change over time.”

Not long ago, I volunteered to assist my wife with the baby-sitting chores. The two older children would have been a piece of cake. These were four with another family: ages 3, 5, 7, and 9. And they can be a handful for any grandparent.

The game they chose to play was “War.” I don’t mean the card game. An actual siege. Next thing I know, the four of them are pouncing all over me intending to capture the “enemy.” The two boys play football and know no fear.

With all the anxiety that ravaged my listless body, I knew no way to retaliate except to shout the only words I could think of in this predicament: “VAY BABOO!”

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
Tom Vartabedian

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  1. Tom Vartabedian has captured the “hye” spirit in this article from beginning to end. I can hear Onnik throughout the article and recall the words “vay baboo” from my own childhood.
    Articles like this are what keep the “hye” spirit alive and flourishing throughout the world.

  2. My late father-in-law, Krekor Hightaian, a Tademetzee, regularly used “vay baboo” to express surprise or amazement when an unexpected thing occurred. It definitely was not a vulgarism. I well recall Papa yelling out
    “Vay Baboo” when I opened a run against him in a pinochle game when he had taken the auction and named the trump suit.

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