Herbert Swope created the first op-ed pages, which appeared opposite the editorial page in the newspaper.
The New York Times is changing the name of its Op-Ed section to Guest Essays. It’s an interesting move, but it reminded me of something many people don’t know about the term “op-ed.” It stands for “opposite editorial,” not “opinion editorial” as many people think.
Op-Ed Pieces Run Opposite the Editorial Page
“Opposite editorial” refers to the pieces’ physical position in the newspaper, not to the opinions being opposite of the newspaper’s opinions, as some other people think.
These commentaries, guest essays, simply run on the page opposite the editorial page. And that is one reason the New York Times is changing the name: In the digital world, many people aren’t reading the guest essays on a physical page that’s opposite the editorial page, so it’s not a very accurate or descriptive term anymore.
Origin of the ‘Op-Ed’ Page
Although the New York Times didn’t start running an op-ed page until 1970, the term goes back at least to 1924, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The concept of a page that lives opposite the editorial page and features opinions from outside writers was pioneered a few years earlier in 1921 by the New York World newspaper’s editor and Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer, Herbert Swope.
Swope was friendly with members of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of writers and other creative people, including Dorothy Parker and Harpo Marx, who regularly met for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel, and according to Etymonline, Swope’s “op-ed pages launched the celebrity of many of the Algonquin Round Table writers.”
I find it funny that the New York Times announcement about the change mentions that people sometimes think the term “op-ed” means opinions opposite of editorial, as in the editorial board, and doesn’t mention that many people think it means “opinion editorial.” Since these are opinion pieces, the idea that “op” stands for “opinion” is such a common misconception that Wikipedia, Wiktionary, and Urban Dictionary include it as an alternate meaning, although traditional dictionaries do not.
So the next time you see the “op-ed” label, spare a thought for print newspapers, where those missives were printed on the page opposite the editorial page.
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