O.K.

Here’s a term that I’m sure at one point in time I just wondered where did it or could it have come from. What does O.K. or Oh-Kay (as I’ve seen it spelled out) really stand for. Was it something the kids in the 50’s came up with? or was it something said during World War I as a sign of all clear or something like that? Not that I spend many nights thinking about these things but where do these popular words come from? They could not have been around for that long…

…well, in a surprise move by History.com (who send me a “The Day in History” e-mail daily) instead of having the typical historical events of Easter put today (which by the way, just because its Easter, doesn’t mean it happened today, just like how Hanukkah is always moving on the calendar so that actual event doesn’t always happen on that day. Also, come to think of it, Christmas isn’t in their e-mail either. Probably because Jesus wasn’t really born on that day in December…but just don’t tell religious people that…

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March 23: General Interest 1839 : OK enters national vernacular

On this day in 1839, the initials “O.K.” are first published in The Boston Morning Post. Meant as an abbreviation for “oll correct,” a popular slang misspelling of “all correct” at the time, OK steadily made its way into the everyday speech of Americans.

During the late 1830s, it was a favorite practice among younger, educated circles to misspell words intentionally, then abbreviate them and use them as slang when talking to one another. Just as teenagers today have their own slang based on distortions of common words, such as “kewl” for “cool” or “DZ” for “these,” the “in crowd” of the 1830s had a whole host of slang terms they abbreviated. Popular abbreviations included “KY” for “No use” (“know yuse”), “KG” for “No go” (“Know go”), and “OW” for all right (“oll wright”).

Of all the abbreviations used during that time, OK was propelled into the limelight when it was printed in the Boston Morning Post as part of a joke. Its popularity exploded when it was picked up by contemporary politicians. When the incumbent president Martin Van Buren was up for reelection, his Democratic supporters organized a band of thugs to influence voters. This group was formally called the “O.K. Club,” which referred both to Van Buren’s nickname “Old Kinderhook” (based on his hometown of Kinderhook, New York), and to the term recently made popular in the papers. At the same time, the opposing Whig Party made use of “OK” to denigrate Van Buren’s political mentor Andrew Jackson. According to the Whigs, Jackson invented the abbreviation “OK” to cover up his own misspelling of “all correct.”

The man responsible for unraveling the mystery behind “OK” was an American linguist named Allen Walker Read. An English professor at Columbia University, Read dispelled a host of erroneous theories on the origins of “OK,” ranging from the name of a popular Army biscuit (Orrin Kendall) to the name of a Haitian port famed for its rum (Aux Cayes) to the signature of a Choctaw chief named Old Keokuk. Whatever its origins, “OK” has become one of the most ubiquitous terms in the world, and certainly one of America’s greatest lingual exports.

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