Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Opa! - Interjections, Exclamations, and Ejaculations

If you've visited Greece or have done anything remotely Greek in the past, you're probably familiar with the expression "opa!" (or "Ώπα" in its native writing system). I recently spent some time pondering the meaning behind the word and discussing it at length with a number of people who all struggled to explain exactly what it means. Everyone seemed to know when to use it and the general sentiment it was expressing, but nobody could really pinpoint a definition.

When I looked the word up online, Urban Dictionary provided the following definition: "A word that Greek people use for no apparent reason at all". While this definition amused me, it certainly didn't help me at all.

Mount Ida in Crete, Greece. The kind of landscape that helps
inspire interjections as positive as "opa!".
It turns out that "opa!" is both an interjection and an exclamation. Interjections are used to express an emotion or feeling on behalf of the speaker and are often exclamations (since emotion has that kind of nature). However, not every interjection is an exclamation. For example, filler words such as uhm and er are also considered interjections. Interjections generally have no syntactic relationship to other words.

Exclamations are emphatic interjections and strongly express emotions. Thanks to the existence of the exclamation mark "!", exclamations are generally very easy to spot when written. In speech, the volume of the utterance tends to give them away.

In linguistics, a short exclamation such as "opa!" is actually known as an ejaculation. Sadly, this is a very difficult linguistic term to safely search for on the internet since Google's algorithm tends to provide a very different type of results to the linguistic ones I was looking for.

The difference between exclamations and ejaculations is that ejaculations don't usually need to follow the grammatical rules of a language and are used independent of clauses and sentences. However, there are some ejaculations that do make use of grammatical elements, which are known as either clausal exclamations (if they contain a subject and verb) or phrasal exclamations (if they contain other grammatical elements of speech).

Another Greek landscape to make you exclaim "wow!".
Some English ejaculations can express a wide range of emotions. The exclamation "ouch!" denotes pain, while "yay!", "woohoo!", and "hooray!" are used in celebration, just like "opa!" in Greek. "Wow!" can indicate amazement and wonder, while "phew!" is used to express relief.

If you're interested in ejaculations, exclamations, and interjections, I would highly recommend checking out the wonderful work of James Chapman on his Tumblr. You might also be interested in our recent post on whimsical interjections like "Good gravy!".

Do you speak a language other than English? If so, what are your favourite interjections, exclamations, and ejaculations in your language? Tell us in the comments below and don't forget to provide an explanation!