It’s a word that has made its way into pop culture, especially sports, and has spread around the world. But what does “olé” mean? Where did the word come from? When should you say it? And what does all this have to do with bullfighting?
What do bullfighters say?
Actually, they probably don’t say much that isn’t necessary to communicate with the other toreros who are in the bull ring. When they do talk, it’s nearly impossible to hear them without a microphone over the roar of the crowd. And, because “olé” is used as a sort of congratulatory exclamation for someone’s excellent performance, a bullfighter would probably not say it because of something that he did himself. “Olé” is something you will mostly hear from the spectators at a bull fight.
There is some debate as to the origin of the word olé, but general consensus is that it comes from the Arabic word for God, Allah. The Spanish language is heavily influenced by Arabic thanks to 700 years of Moorish occupation before the Iberian Peninsula was reconquered by the Catholic kings of that time. In the North African culture, it was customary to shout “Allah!” when a dancer performed extraordinarily well, in recognition of the God-given skill and believing that the dancer was, in that moment, a vessel through which humans could witness the beauty and power of God. Over time, the pronunciation of the word changed slightly and became a common exclamation in the Spanish language.
When can I use “ole”?
Conventions on when you can use “olé” vary slightly from country to country, but in Spain, you can generally say it anytime you are impressed by somebody’s performance. Today, it is often heard at bull fights, football matches, and in Flamenco dance shows, as a way to cheer and motivate the torero, team or dancer. If you find yourself at a bull fight or some other public event, you won’t have to think too much about it because everyone around you will be shouting “olé!”. Quickly, you’ll get the hang of when to use it as you become more familiar with bull fighting procedure and technique.