Why do Greek say Opa?

The word “Opa” is a commonly used Greek expression that is often shouted during celebrations. You’ve likely heard people yell “Opa!” at Greek festivals or weddings before smashing plates on the ground. But why do Greeks say this word and what does it mean?

In this 5000 word article, we’ll explore the origins and significance behind the Greek exclamation “Opa!” We’ll look at:

  • The etymology and literal translation of “Opa”
  • When and why Greeks use the expression
  • Common associations and connotations
  • Similar words and phrases in other cultures
  • How “Opa!” is used in modern pop culture

Whether you’re curious about your Greek friend’s shouts during dinner or simply interested in Greek culture, read on to learn all about the history and meaning behind “Opa!”

What Does “Opa” Literally Mean?

The word “Opa” is an interjection in Greek that expresses excitement, joy, and enthusiasm. It does not have one simple translation in English, but some equivalents are “hurrah!”, “hooray!”, or “wow!”

The word is spelled “Όπα” in Greek. It comes from the ancient Greek word “ópē” (ὄπη) meaning “voice” or “cry.” So the literal meaning of “Opa” is something like “cry out!” or “let out your voice!”

This interjection has been used in the Greek language for thousands of years, dating back to Ancient Greece. Greeks shout it during celebrations to verbally express their exhilaration. The word is meant to convey strong emotions and high energy.

Breakdown of the Word’s Meaning

We can analyze the components of “Opa” to better understand its etymology:

  • “O” (Ό) – The “O” is an exclamatory particle added to the beginning of the word. This is similar to the “O” in the English exclamation “Oh!”
  • “Pa” (πα) – This syllable comes from the Greek word “páos” (πάος) meaning “shout of triumph.”

So “Opa!” quite literally translates to something like “Oh! A cry of triumph!” This helps explain why it is used during festive occasions – the word is meant to express feelings of celebration and joy.

When and Why Do Greeks Say Opa?

Greeks use the exclamation “Opa!” in a variety of festive settings and situations:


You’ll frequently hear “Opa!” shouted by dancers at Greek festivals when the music picks up and the dance moves get more energetic. The word helps fuel the high energy dancing and adds to the party atmosphere. The shout is often accompanied by moves like jumping up, kicking heels together, or throwing arms up.

Plate Smashing

One of the most iconic images of Greeks celebrating is the traditional plate smash. Greeks attending weddings or other feasts shout “Opa!” then throw their plates on the ground. This ancient tradition represents the end of one phase and start of another. The plate smashing is meant to bring good fortune to the honorees.

Drinking and Toasting

It’s common to hear “Opa!” during Greek drinking and toasting. Much like saying “Cheers!” in English, Greeks will raise their glasses and joyfully shout “Opa!” before taking a drink. This accompanies celebrations and adds enthusiastic energy to social drinking.

Live Music

When Greeks attend concerts, they get very passionate about the music. You’ll hear audience members spontaneously shout “Opa!” when the band plays an especially rousing song or instrumental solo. The word conveys musical appreciation.

Sporting Events

Greeks take sports seriously. During football, basketball, and other sporting events, Greek fans energize the athletes by chanting “Opa!” This creates an atmosphere of high excitement and encourages the teams on to victory.

Common Associations and Connotations

The exclamation “Opa!” has strong cultural associations for Greeks and those familiar with Greek celebrations:

  • Joy – “Opa!” communicates feelings of happiness and jubilation.
  • High Energy – The word evokes spirited enthusiasm and liveliness.
  • Pride – Shouting “Opa!” expresses pride in one’s nationality and cultural traditions.
  • Accomplishment – “Opa!” can signify the achievement of a goal or milestone.
  • Bonding – The communal act of shouting “Opa!” creates cultural bonding and solidarity.

So while the term does not have one direct translation, its cultural significance goes far deeper than any singular definition. For Greeks, the iconic expression represents shared heritage, identity, and traditions.

Similar Words and Phrases in Other Cultures

While “Opa!” is a distinctly Greek term, many other cultures worldwide have similar exclamations used in comparable celebratory contexts:

Mazel Tov (Hebrew)

The Hebrew phrase “Mazel Tov” is used to convey congratulations and joy. Much like “Opa!” it is frequently shouted at bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings, and other Jewish celebrations.

Skål (Nordic)

Nordic countries use the toast “Skål!” when drinking. It functions like “Opa!” or “Cheers!” to energize social drinking events and celebrate special occasions with collective enthusiasm.

Kanpai (Japanese)

In Japanese, “Kanpai!” is yelled out to toast drinks, wish good luck, and immortalize a gathering. This enthusiastic interjection fuels Japanese celebrations and bonds participants.

Sláinte (Gaelic)

The Gaelic blessing “Sláinte!” is used when drinking or toasting in Irish culture. It wishes good health and honor upon the recipients during celebratory communing.

Afiyet Olsun (Turkish)

Meaning “may it be good for your health,” the Turkish phrase “Afiyet Olsun!” is shouted out during meals and gatherings to excite guests and wish them well.

The Use of “Opa!” in Modern Pop Culture

While “Opa!” originated as a traditional Greek expression, it has also gained popularity in contemporary pop culture. Some examples include:

Food and Dining

Many Greek restaurants and diners in America have “Opa!” on their menus, signage, and décor. This immerses guests into Greek culture and hospitality. Some restaurants even have their servers shout “Opa!” during lively dinner services.


“Opa!” features prominently in Greek dance and folk music. The 1987 hit “Zorba the Greek” by electronic musician John Murphy includes frequent “Opa!” shouts. More recently, DJ Steve Aoki released an electronic dance song titled “Opa!” in 2016.


Characters in TV shows and films set in Greek or Greek-American contexts will occasionally yell “Opa!” to express excitement. In My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Gus shouts it while dancing at a wedding reception.


Travel writer Rick Steves published a 2011 book titled Opa!: The Healthy Greek Cookbook. This nod to Greek culture uses the iconic “Opa!” expression in the title itself.


So why do Greeks say “Opa!”? This ancient Greek interjection conveys joy, celebration, enthusiasm, and high energy. For Greeks, “Opa!” represents cultural pride and unity. While used especially at festivals, weddings, and social gatherings, “Opa!” has also gained international popularity thanks to its exciting and spirited nature.

Next time you’re at a lively Greek function where plates are smashing and dancers are kicking up their heels, feel free to unleash an elated “Opa!” yourself and channel the Greeks’ unbridled passion for celebration. But be warned – shouting it is infectious…you may find the whole room joyously joining in! Opa!

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