02 March 2011


According to Wikipedia, Okay (or OK or O.K.) is "a colloquial English word denoting approval, assent, or acknowledgment.

"Okay" has frequently turned up as a loanword in many other languages.

As an adjective, "okay" means "acceptable" as in "it's okay for you to leave now" or meaning "mediocre" as in "the food at that diner was okay."

It can be an interjection - "Okay, let's get out of here!"  It can show agreement - "Okay, that's a good choice."  As a noun and verb it means "assent" - "The boss okayed the purchase."

OK : The Improbable Story of America's Greatest WordMaybe it's America's greatest word. Our answer to Shakespeare.

So says Allan Metcalf, an English professor and executive secretary of the American Dialect Society, who wrote OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word.

It is an interesting case, and it's very versatile.

Just 2 letters, separated by periods or not separated by periods. Not an abbreviation for "okay" which came later.

Metclaf writes that:
"It is said to be the most frequently spoken (or typed) word on the planet, bigger even than an infant's first word 'ma,' ...just two simple letters ... of humble origin ... born as a lame joke...."

What is the origin?  Here are three origins of "OK" that Metcalf gives:
  • from a Chicago bakery named O. Kendall and Sons wjo stamped Army biscuits with the company initials - or from a Boston baker named Otto Kimmel who did the same thing with his vanilla cookies.
  • from the Choctaw word "okeh" - a verb that means "it is true."
"OK" first seems to have appeared in the Boston Morning Post on March 23, 1839 (as an editor's joke) as an abbreviation for a misspelled version of the phrase "all correct." Huh?

Personally, I like the notation found in the hand-written diary of William Richardson in 1815 who was recording a trip from Boston to New Orleans. One entry uses "ok" in place of "all well."

"Arrived at Princeton, a handsome little village, 15 miles from N Brunswick, ok & at Trenton, where we dined at 1 P.M."          via Wikipedia

And yet, it proliferated during a kind of abbreviations fad period in America, and because it worked in the context of the 19th century version of Twitter - telegraph messages.

Some of these stories just seem so far-fetched.

Did supporters of President Martin Van Buren, who was known as "Old Kinderhook" use it?  How about that lousy speller Andrew Jackson approving documents by initialing it "O.K." which he thought stood for "Oll Korrect."

And what about "A-OK"?

Is "okie-dokie" a variation?

And the little OK is even cut in half to "K" in text messages!

1 comment:

  1. Nice tracing, but let's get to the bottom of this, K?