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In an online forum, OP means "original poster," but can it also mean "original post?"

For example, instead of saying

To answer the OP's original question...

could one instead say

To answer the question in the OP...

or would this be an improper use of the term?

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    I'm uncertain in what way this was marked as a duplicate of “It was my op” what does it mean?. As far as I can tell, they're two completely separate questions. – Vyren Dec 30 '17 at 18:16
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    The answer in the the marked "duplicate" deals with op as short for operation, and not actually a dupe. However, I am not sure if this question belongs here or in meta. Vote for reopen. – Cascabel Dec 30 '17 at 19:15
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    Since this is a perennial question both at EL&U and across the Web, I think it is useful for the question to be asked and answered on this site. It is not related (as far as I can tell) to the claimed duplicate "'It was my op' what does it mean?" that was originally cited as grounds for closing it. – Sven Yargs Dec 30 '17 at 21:58
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    In most cases you can tell from the context whether "original poster" or "original post" is intended. – GEdgar Dec 30 '17 at 22:07
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    In my opinion, you should refrain from using "OP" or other ambiguous abbreviations. At least on StackExchange, use "question" and "questioner" respectively. – IllidanS4 Dec 30 '17 at 23:48
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People all over the Internet have asked the same thing—which, on the face of it, suggests that different forum posters (and perhaps, in some cases, the same people at different times) have used it to mean both things.

For example:

Does OP mean Original Post or Original Poster or both? (AnandTech, posted January 7, 2005)

Does OP mean the original post or poster? (Physics Forums, posted January 3, 2008)

Does OP stand for "Opening Post," or "Opening Poster?" (Kongregate, posted May 7, 2011)

What does OP mean? (Meta Stack Exchange, posted September 10, 2012)

Noob Question: What does OP mean? (World of Warcraft Forums, posted September 15, 2012)

what does op mean? (League of Legends Forum, posted January 3, 2013)

OP -- Original Post or Original Poster? (The Straight Dope, posted December 12, 2016)

If you examine these various discussions, you'll see that, typically, someone will say that OP stands for original poster, and then someone else will say that it stands for original post, and then someone else will say that it can be used to mean either thing, and then someone else will suggest that it stands for something off the wall like Otto Preminger or Opossum Party.

At English Language & Usage, I think, most longtime participants use OP as an abbreviation of original poster, but not everyone follows this convention all the time.

Perhaps the most neutral, descriptivist handling of the abbreviation that I've come across is the one in Daniel Chandler & ‎Rod Munday, A Dictionary of Social Media (Oxford, 2016):

op 1. (OP) In online forums, short for original poster (who started a thread) or original post (the message that started it).

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    Yes, this abbreviation is very fluid. I've even seen it used to mean Other Post(er), for any upstream post(er) in a thread. Typical usage would be something like "As one of the OP's said..." Similar to PP, for previous post(er)—in some cases it may even be a typo for PP, but I'm pretty sure it's often an intentional usage. – 1006a Dec 31 '17 at 0:09
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    In other words, the meaning of OP should be determined from context. If the context is ambiguous (both senses fit) so be it. – traktor53 Dec 31 '17 at 0:51
  • @1006a certainly on Slashdot (which had a role in popularising the use) PP for parent post(er) and GPP for grandparent post(er) are both used, and OP carries both meanings. – Chris H Dec 31 '17 at 17:41
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    Pretty certain that in World of Warcraft context (outside the forums), OP almost always means "overpowered", carrying the implied suggestion that Blizzard should probably nerf the thing that is OP. The link to the WoW forum post in this answer actually confirms that. – Bass Jan 2 '18 at 6:34
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I'm not really sure who is qualified to say that one use or another of this abbreviation is "correct" or "incorrect". But I have certainly used "OP" to stand for "original post" instead of "original poster". The Oxford Dictionaries entry for "OP" gives this as a possible meaning:

(in online forums or comment pages) original post (or poster).

It also gives the following relevant example sentence:

  • ‘Oops, upon closer inspection of the OP, I see you weren't looking for a "blame" song.’

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Either or an abstraction related to both, depending on context.

To be clear, "OP" may refer to:

  • the Original Post; or

  • the Original Poster; or

  • the Original Post or the Original Poster, ambiguously;

  • the Original Post and the Original Poster, abstractly.

When it's ambiguous, the writer may be thinking of the post or the poster. They may fail to specify which for a variety of reasons, ranging from believing that the definition normally refers to the one that they intend to simply not caring to specify.

However, others mean "OP" abstractly as "the original source of the content". They're not actually referring to either the post or the poster specifically, so we can't say that their usage of "OP" maps to one over the other.

The distinction between this abstraction and ambiguity is the presence-or-absence of referential transparency. For example, "laugh out loud" may be the etymology of "LOL", but "LOL" isn't an acronym for it, such that substituting one for the other would change the meaning of a text.

Likewise, "OP" may have an ambiguous etymology and often refer to either the post or the poster in some cases, but there's also a separate definition distinct from these. It'd be most precise to say that this separate definition is distinct from either of its etymologies, much like "LOL" is distinct from "laugh out loud".

protected by NVZ Dec 31 '17 at 19:59

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