(The following has been transcribed from a conversation between the interviewer and the informant.)
Interviewer: Describe to me the definition of Ope, if you can
Informant: Its kind of like like, excuse me but not in like a – aggressive way, more like a I’m sorry way.
Interviewer: It’s an apologetic “excuse me?”
Interviewer: Can you give me a situation in which you might use “ope?”
Informant: Umm, well recently I – at Trader Joe’s today I literally said it cuz i went too close to someone for the six feet distancing [this piece was collected during the Covid-19 outbreak of 2020], and I was like “Ope, sorry,” and turned back the other way – to not be so close to them.
Interviewer: Any other examples?
Informant: Or if I like do something to myself – I like drop my phone or something I say “ope.”
Interviewer: When you say it like that do you say it differently? Does the intonation change with the situation?
Informant: I say it like “ope.” [very clipped]
Interviewer: Every time no matter when you say it?
Informant: “Ope.” Yeah, it’s like one syllable.
Interviewer: Do you know when or where you learned this?
Informant: No but I was only made self-aware of doing it on – from twitter. I think I’ve always done it having grown up in the Midwest but I didn’t like, think about it, it was just something and then I went to California, and it – people didn’t do it… and that’s when I realized.
Interviewer: Do you know anything about where it comes from?
Informant: I always thought it started out just saying “oh,” but then it became like, I don’t know why people added “ope.” I don’t think you’d see it in, like, New York or anything. But it’s like, what is the boundary of the Midwest? It’s like – I don’t think about Nebraska and stuff as in – even South Dakota is Midwest but I don’t think of them as Midwest.
Interviewer: So what are the main states you think you’d see “ope” in?
Informant: Mmmmichigan? Ohio, Indiana, Illinois… Iowa? Maybe? I think it’s mostly, like states that I see as having like a bigger cit- like a bigger city in them. Wisconsin. It might just have to do with the fact that I grew up here [Illinois] so I feel like it doesn’t spread very far.
Background: My informant is Senior in College who grew up in Southern and then Northern Illinois. She comes from a family of middle-class background. She goes to UCLA, and therefore has adopted a mix of midwest and west coast slang.
Context: The informant is my sister, and she gave me this piece in a more research oriented setting, as she was the first person I collected from and I was determining the best way to go about the process still. She’s not very good at talking when asked to, according to herself, so I felt I had to do more prompting than I might with another informant.
Thoughts: “Ope” has become an incredibly well known, and so probably more widespread, piece of Midwestern slang/dialect. What is interesting is the informant’s discussion of where it may come from. I also use the word often and did not realize at all until recently thanks to it’s spread on the internet. I have no idea where it comes from, but I know many people think it can mean many things – one common belief is that it means “anything and everything” for example – and that is what makes it truly folkloric in my opinion.