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Monday, March 23, 2009


In college, I once wrote and read a radio magazine story on the history of the phrase "Okay or O.K."

My professor gave me a "C" on the project. I objected because I thought it was worthy of a higher grade. He said that the "C" stood because the project was just "okay" and laughed.

I was reminded of that essay when I read the following on

March 23, 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 (end).

Once again, I'm sure that you Knights might have a different opinion of the origin... and that's OK!

Sir Bowie "have offered more original blogs, but that's OK" of Greenbrair

1 comment:

  1. Yeah its a real take your pick job,,...

    I was always brought up to #11 in my list below, and later someone told me it was a sign invented by pearl divers and later scuba divers .. to show things were alright underwater.

    My bet is that is from the Scottish "Och Aye" who would have taken it to the States. ( och say ock )

    choose any one from this lot :))

    : 1. Orrin Kendall biscuits, which soldiers ate during the Civil War.
    : : 2. Short for Aux Cayes, a Haitian port that American sailors praised for its rum.
    : : 3. Old Keokuk, a Native American tribal chief who was said to have signed treaties with his initials.
    : : 4. OK stands for "all correct" or the illiterate phrase "Orl Korrect."
    : : 5. U.S. President Martin Van Buren's nickname "Old Kinderhook" -- OK for short. He was a native of Kinderhook, N.Y.
    : : 6. Choctaw word "okeh," (or "hoke") meaning "indeed" (or "It is so.")
    : : 7. Scottish "auch aye", meaning "ah yes." (Or "och aye," meaning "okay.")
    : : 8. From the French maritime phrase "au quai" meaning "at dock", and therefore at last safe from the ravages of the open sea.
    : : 9. '0 killed' - the report of the night's death toll during the First World War.
    : : 10. All clear after the shoot-out at O.K. Corral.
    : : 11. Instruments calibrated at an Observatory at Kew had, affixed to them, a stamp, or impression, to authenticate that calibration. This stamp was O K - Observatory Kew.

    : : 12. The abbreviation is for Oberst Kommandant, German for "Colonel in Command," used by either -- take your pick -- a General Schliessen or Baron von Steuben when initialing letters and orders during the American Revolution.
    : : 13. It comes from the name of a freight agent, Obadiah Kelly, whose initials were widely disseminated on bills of lading.
    : : 14. The abbreviation is for Open Key, popularized by telegraphers in the 1860s.
    : : 15. It comes from the names of Lords Onslow and Kilbracken, who initialed bills after they were read and approved in England's House of Lords.
    : : 16. From a misreading of "Order Recorded" on official documents.
    : : 17. Or from Finnish "oikea," correct.
    : : 18. From the Greek "olla," all, plus "Kalla," good.

    after all that i'm with
    Ned Flanders... "Okeledokely"

    D of OK