“Why We’re Retiring the Term ‘Op-ed’”: that was the headline that appeared, ironically enough, on the Op-Ed pages of The Times on April 27, 2021.
Kathleen Kingsbury, the Opinion Editor at The Times, was the author of the statement that followed this headline. But before I comment on her statement, honesty requires me to admit that Ms. Kingsbury made me aware of a lifelong error.
I have always believed that the “op” in “Op-Ed” was short for “opinion.”
It turns out that “op” has no kinship at all with “opinion.” Instead, I have now learned, the Op-Ed page “was so named because it was [placed] opposite the editorial page” in the conventional layout of a print newspaper.
Well, who knew?
But Kathleen Kingsbury and her colleagues knew. And that is why the term Op-Ed must retire: because, for readers of the digital version of The Times, the spatial arrangement of two pages, positioned “opposite” to each other, has entirely lost its meaning.
Thus, Op-Ed must become the first resident in The New York Times Retirement Community for Words that No Longer Have a Home in the Digital World.
That place is going to fill up fast.
We don’t yet know if Op-Ed has been singled out as an exceptionally and urgently outmoded term, or if The Times has compiled a long list of terms that will soon receive their own notices of termination.
And another question also hangs in the air: what lucky term will have the privilege of taking the job that used to belong to Op-Ed?
Surely it will be a phrase that radiates vitality and freshness, vigor and animation, with an equal claim on both immediate relevance and lasting endurance!
The new term will be “Guest Essay.”
“Readers,” Kathleen Kingsbury assures us, “instantly grasped this term during research sessions and intuitively understood what it said about the relationship between the writer and The Times.”
Heaven knows, I’ve attended a few “research sessions” in my time, but none with the subdued spirit and the depleted energy of the sessions that brought forth “Guest Essay.”
At this point, readers are surely wondering if I am stepping forward as a candidate for the leadership of the Movement to Postpone Op-ed’s Retirement.
In truth, I have the bedrock qualification.
I am going to keep saying that.
In a contest that seems certain to be recognized as this year’s most inconsequential dispute, The New York Times and I will be unyielding in our loyalty to our preferred terms.
But here is my prediction: neither The Times nor I will prevail in this showdown.
Instead, with the decline of conventional journalism and especially of print newspapers, while I keep saying Op-Ed and The Times keeps saying Guest Essay, another term entirely is going to win.
Either the word “Relic” or the word “Vestige” is going to emerge as the term of choice for a form of expression that is equally valued by the Opinion Editor at the New York Times and by me.
But I will at least have the grace to pay an occasional visit to the well-populated Retirement Community for Words that No Longer Have a Home in the Digital World, so I can assure those old-timers that a few of us still remember who they are.
If you also noticed this, or have any other reflections you’d like to share, we would love to hear from you. Please email us at email@example.com.