okay (OK) (O.K.)

merquiades

Senior Member
English (USA Northeast)
Hello,
I was quite sure there would already be an etymological thread on this expression, but I looked and didn't find anything. I'm surprised about that.
The question is simple, what does O. K. stand for? Where did this come from?

I have checked out the widespread suggested theories on Wikipedia and elsewhere but they all seem really farfetched to me: West African, Choctaw, a reference to Martin Van Buren (Old Kinderhook), Otto Kaiser, 0 Killed after a battle,..... I'd love it to be the Greek όλα καλά (óla kalá) "all good" but I doubt that language was so widely spoken in the US in the 19th or early 20th century. The misspelling: Oll Korrect for "All correct" seems plausible but why would two such easy words be so widely misspelled that their abbreviation became standard?

Can anyone shine a light on this subject?
 
  • gburtonio

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    The misspelling: Oll Korrect for "All correct" seems plausible but why would two such easy words be so widely misspelled that their abbreviation became standard?

    This is the generally accepted explanation (e.g. see OED). The misspelling was supposedly for fun, part of a 'contemporary vogue for humorous abbreviations of this type' (OED).
     

    Rocko!

    Senior Member
    Español - México
    169 years ago, “O.K.” was already well known among U.S. politicians:

    Democratic Review. 1852-June. Vol 30. Page 492:
    42036484-5C36-4562-964D-6453F2174320.jpeg
     

    Graciela J

    Senior Member
    Spanish - Argentina
    The misspelling: Oll Korrect for "All correct" seems plausible but why would two such easy words be so widely misspelled that their abbreviation became standard?

    I have read that this was a story told about an American president by his political enemies, that he was so ignorant that when he approved something he would write OK meaning "all correct" because he thought that it was written "oll korrect" .
     

    swift

    Senior Member
    Spanish – Costa Rica (Valle Central)
    Hullo, Mr. @merquiades!
    The definitive text on the subject is by professor Allan Metcalf, whose OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word, based on the research of historian Allen Walker Read, was published in 2010. Metcalf traces the word's birth to a bit of jocular text in an 1839 article in the Boston Morning Post—a little jab from one newspaper editor to another, suggesting that his cohort in Providence, Rhode Island, should sponsor a party for some boisterous Boston lads who might be stopping by his town:

    … he of the [Providence] Journal, and his train-band, would have the 'contributions box,' et ceteras, o.k.—all correct—and cause the corks to fly…"

    <…> Newspapers in the 19th century existed before the advent of wire services, and American newspapers got most of their out-of-town news from other newspapers they exchanged copies with. The papers weren't cramped for space, and they'd also print humor, poetry, fiction, and jabs at other newspapers. The quote above is part of a humorous reply to an item reprinted from the Providence paper.

    Despite plenty of space, there was an abbreviation fad in newspapers of the time that might remind one of our own time. <…>

    The 1820s and 1830s shared another linguistic fad with today: an appreciation for deliberate misspellings. (Kewl, rite?) This trend, which had humorists adopting now-cringey bumpkin personas with ignorance manifested in uneducated spellings, turned no go into know go and no use into know yuse (lol). Abbreviations were not immune, and no go became K.G.. So too all right became O.W., as an abbreviation for oll wright. And all correct became o.k., as an abbreviation for oll korrect.

    <...>

    The Hilarious History of 'OK'
     

    Rocko!

    Senior Member
    Español - México
    What Graciela said is from 1828 (president Andrew Jackson), according to The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories.
    Other book says Jackson wrote OR, and an opponent said that Jackson wrote OK, and democrats started to write OK.
     
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    swift

    Senior Member
    Spanish – Costa Rica (Valle Central)
    As OK spread (helped along by the advent of the telegraph), its origin story was a topic of much speculation. <…> The most persistent of these ancestors was the Choctaw word okeh. This etymon was suggested in 1885, with Andrew Jackson supposedly having borrowed the word from members of the Choctaw tribe. Woodrow Wilson was a believer: he wrote okeh on papers he approved. He was asked why he did not use O.K. "Because it is wrong," he replied.

    The Hilarious History of 'OK' | Merriam-Webster (merriam-webster.com)
     
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