It's not something Minnesotans say so much as something they emit.
Two people are in close quarters. One wants to get to a location that is beyond or next to the other. It does not matter if these people are complete strangers, close relatives, or frequent sex partners.
"Ope!" says Minnesotan No. 1. "Just gonna' sneak right past ya here..."
"Ope!" says Minnesotan No. 2, ostensibly to confess that he or she is actually the rude one, and is apologetic for having so inconsiderately occupied a volume of space on the Earth at the same time as Minnesotan No. 1.
In this spirit, we at City Pages say: "Ope! Just gonna sneak right past ya and into the regional consciousness here..."
There is no denying Minnesota's near-ubiquitous replacement for the (actual) words "Excuse me," and indeed, we have come to embrace our vocabulary inheritance as something of a point of pride. Don't even bother making fun of us, world! If you will -- ope! -- excuse us, we will gladly make fun of ourselves.
In Minnesota we don’t say “excuse me”. We say “ope” which directly translates to “oh excuse me kind sir/lady, I did not mean to bump into you, please accept my apology as I am a fellow midwesterner and meant you no harm”. Isn’t that amazing?— Sam Rossini (@samrossini) November 13, 2017
i knew i wasn't in minnesota anymore when a chipotle worker questioned my use of the word "ope"— C (@celia_paigee) September 17, 2017
Grocery shopping in Minnesota is just a bunch of people saying "ope sorry" and me wondering why they're apologizing for making eye contact— Pakkman (@DaltonPakkala) September 7, 2017
Florida airport interaction:— Keeli ✨♍️✨ (@keeli_obrien) November 6, 2017
man: excuse me
Woman: why the fuck would you yell that in my ear
Minnesota airport interaction:
When Minnesota football players tackle, they always respond with a polite "ope"— The Black Sheep UIUC (@BlackSheep_UIUC) October 21, 2017
Our dialectical curiosity at last has the Youtube video explainer it demanded, courtesy of Ian Redmond, a DJ with Duluth-area radio station Mix 108. Last week, Redmond posted a clip talking about his experience with Southern relatives over the holidays, and a cousin's befuddlement at Minnesotans' use of "Ope!" Says Redmond: "Now I'm noticing it everywhere."
As observed by northern Minnesota writer Aaron Brown, some of the best "Ope!"s are directed internally.
It’s probably most jarring to non-Minnesotans when used alone. For instance, I immediately recall navigating situations where “ope” was the only sound I made. “Ope!” “Ope!” Almost like honking a car horn. “Ope!”
As cutesy, folksy regionalisms go, this one's not so bad. We Minnesotans are a generally contented bunch, and feel bad about asking for anything from our fellow man... even if all we're asking is that they please step aside so we can get to the door before we -- ope! -- die of hypothermia.