Fixed phrases are combinations of words that are never altered. They always appear with the exact same words in the exact same order. Some fixed phrases are so old that they don’t seem to make sense anymore, like woe is me.
Woe is me has been around since the days of Old English. Since it is a fixed phrase, does it have any variants? What about whoa is me? Continue reading to learn more about this phrase.
What is the Difference Between Woe is Me and Whoa is Me?
In this post, I will compare woe is me vs. whoa is me. I will outline the correct phrase with definitions and example sentences.
I will also include a mnemonic that will help you decide whether to write whoa is me or woe is me.
When to Use Woe Is Me
What does woe is me mean? Woe is me is an expression of distress. This phrase means I am in trouble or I am struggling. People might say woe is me when they are going through hard times, when they are sad about something, or whenever obstacles befall them on the path of life.
The phrase is archaic, and today it is mostly used ironically or in self-deprecation.
- “Woe is me,” cried Sullivan, “this donut shop is cash only and I only brought my credit card.”
- “I am stuck in Las Vegas for an extra night because my flight was cancelled; woe is me,” Sarah texted her boyfriend.
- I will remind myself that the last thing my dad would want to see is a moping daughter, let alone a moping, woe-is-me bride. –The Washington Post
Woe is me is a fixed phrase from Old English that has survived the centuries, even as the rest of the language changed.
Grammar was slightly different in Old English, so even though woe is me would have been correct several hundred years ago, it looks wrong today. As a fixed phrase, though, we accept it as standard even though it doesn’t really follow modern rules.
When to Use Whoa Is Me
What does whoa is me mean? Some writers unfamiliar with the idiom might use whoa is me when they really mean woe is me.
Whoa is an exclamation, while woe means trouble or strife, so whoa is me doesn’t mean the same thing as woe is me, which is the phrase for which people are looking.
As you can see in the below graph, whoa is me is so widely accepted as incorrect that according to the Google Ngram viewer, no English writer has used it in a published book for at least two centuries:
This graph is charting whoa is me vs. woe is me in English writing since 1800, but, according to this data, whoa is me has never been used, so it doesn’t even appear on the chart.
In other words, avoid it like the plague.
Trick to Remember the Difference
You should never use whoa is me. Woe is me is the only correct version of this phrase, even though it looks odd today.
The word woe contains and O and an E, the two letters that begin the words Old English. Since the phrase woe is me is a holdover from Old English, this mental link can help you remember that woe is me is correct.
Is it woe is me or whoa is me? Woe is me is a phrase that means I am distressed or troubles have befallen me. Whoa is me is a mistake based on the pronunciations of whoa and woe.
- Use woe is me.
- Avoid whoa is me.