Well, OK Then: An Insight into American English

File this under: things you never thought to think about.  Why do Americans say “OK” so much? Turns out, the word was invented as a joke, and just sort of stuck around.

It was on March 23, 1839, in a Boston newspaper, that the newspaper first used ‘o.k.’ and explained those as an abbreviation for ‘all correct.’ And, of course, the joke was that ‘o’ is not the beginning of ‘all’ and ‘k’ is not the beginning of ‘correct.’ So this thing supposedly all correct was not all correct.

VOA Learning English has an interesting interview with the author of a new book all about how “OK” was invented and became part of everyday speech.

3 comments

  1. Are you sure that “OK” did not arise during World War I as a daily status abbreviation US frontline companies would telegraph for “Zero Killed”?

  2. I’ve got no clue, to be honest with you. But Wikipedia (yes, I know it’s a dubious source) suggests at least 3 other possible explanations of where OK comes from…although all would well predate WWI.

  3. The Online Etymology dictionary also suggests a pre-WWI date to the origin of the word:

    “1839, only survivor of a slang fad in Boston and New York c.1838-9 for abbreviations of common phrases with deliberate, jocular misspellings (cf. K.G. for “no go,” as if spelled “know go”); in this case, “oll korrect.” Further popularized by use as an election slogan by the O.K. Club, New York boosters of Democratic president Martin Van Buren’s 1840 re-election bid, in allusion to his nickname Old Kinderhook, from his birth in the N.Y. village of Kinderhook. Van Buren lost, the word stuck, in part because it filled a need for a quick way to write an approval on a document, bill, etc. The noun is first attested 1841; the verb 1888. Spelled out as okeh, 1919, by Woodrow Wilson, on assumption that it represented Choctaw okeh “it is so” (a theory which lacks historical documentation); this was ousted quickly by okay after the appearance of that form in 1929. Okey-doke is student slang first attested 1932. Greek immigrants to America who returned home early 20c. having picked up U.S. speech mannerisms were known in Greece as okay-boys, among other things.”

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