What’s this Oi business all about? It’s a sort of skinhead battle cry. Or to put it a little less crudely: a greeting you might use when saying „hello“ to your mates.
Where does this greeting originate? – that’s something that scholars still argue over. There are various theories, which are all in themselves conclusive and credible. Some skinheads have chosen one of these theories as their version of the truth to the exclusion of all others. The result is that on every street corner you hear a different version of events.
Here are the three most significant theories:
The most common explanation of the term „Oi“ is connected with music. In Great Britain in the second half of the seventies Punk became fashionable, a trend which later had a decisive influence on the skinhead musical scene. Over time, skinheads changed Punk music: It got faster and took on a harder edge – and the lyrics became simpler. The Manager of the band, „The Cockney Rejects“ is said to have called this musical style „Oi“ – instead of „1, 2, 3, 4“, the band used to shout „Oi,Oi,Oi“ at the start of each Reject’s number. This chant soon became heard regularly not only at skinhead gigs but also on the football terraces where it could be guaranteed to set the skinhead pulse racing.
Also the language of the street can give us some clues as to the origin of the word „Oi“. Cockney English (a London dialect) mangles and distorts certain syllables: „nice“ becomes „noice“ and instead of „fine“ they say „foine“. You can see therefore the link between „Hi“ and „Oi“. And so if a skin says „Oi mate“, then that’s just a friendly if hard edged way of saying „Hi“. Many Londoners tend to drop their aitches, thus creating syllable like [ai] and [oi]. As Gary Bushell remarked „Oi was and remains a Cockney street shout“ meaning „Hello mate, got something to tell you.“
Many skins think that „Oi“ has its roots in a English pun. It could be derived from the saying „strength through joy“. The final letters of the word „joy“ gives us the sound „oi“. It’s an unfortunate association for us Germans because of the Nazi „Kraft durch Freude“ (literally: „Strength Through Joy“) movement. If you look at the slogan in its own right, however, it contains an rather important message, that is to say: „You’re strong if you enjoy life“. And it’s the „Oi“ attitude and lifestyle which makes a true „Oi Skin“. They’ve got their own music, love a few bevies and like to thumb their noses at the middle classes, whilst at the same time living the skinhead brotherhood and „having a good time.“