Debate: OK or Okay?

by Christopher Paul on February 19, 2011

I always thought the origins of O.K. (or OK or Ok or Okay) were not definitively known. But Allan Metcalf traces the history of this word and chronicles how it has become one of the most popular words in the world.

On 23 March 1839, OK was introduced to the world on the second page of the Boston Morning Post, in the midst of a long paragraph, as “o.k. (all correct)”.

How this weak joke survived at all, instead of vanishing like its counterparts, is a matter of lucky coincidence involving the American presidential election of 1840.

One candidate was nicknamed Old Kinderhook, and there was a false tale that a previous American president couldn’t spell properly and thus would approve documents with an “OK”, thinking it was the abbreviation for “all correct”.

Within a decade, people began actually marking OK on documents and using OK on the telegraph to signal that all was well. So OK had found its niche, being easy to say or write and also distinctive enough to be clear.

Over the years, other languages incorporated it with some slight variation.

Native American Choctaw: Okeh – it is so
Scottish: Och aye – oh yes
Greek: Ola kala – all is right
German: ohne Korrektur – without [need for] correction
Finnish: Oikea – correct
Mandinka: O ke – that’s it

But in spite of its ubiquity, the word OK still hasn’t found its way into formal speeches or modern translations of The Bible.

How ‘OK’ took over the world – BBC News via The Awl

Previous post:

Next post: