Do you know what ‘OK’ means?

You say it every day without even thinking. It was one of the first words spoken on the moon. It’s the most commonly spoken word on the planet. But do you know from where the word OK originated?

In the 2001 book OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word, Allen Metcalf suggests that OK is “the most frequently spoken (or typed) word on the planet – used more often that ‘Coke’ or an infant’s ‘ma’”.

You won’t the find roots of this “concise and utilitarian” word in any Latin or Greek etymology because it’s “quintessentially American in its simplicity,” says Metcalf.

We all know what OK means in a contemporary sense, but where does this word come from? And how do you spell it correctly? Is it ‘OK’, or do you go as far as to spell it ‘okay’?

Turns out, leaving the ‘a’ and ‘y’ off is perfectly fine, since OK is actually an acronym for ‘oll korrect’ (or ‘all correct’). The first recorded use of OK was found in 1839 in a Boston newspaper, used by an editor who was a fan of shortening words. It was a trend among writers and journalists of the time to abbreviate words.
‘KG’ meant ‘no go’, ‘AW’ was ‘all right’ and ‘ISBD’ was a quick way of saying ‘It shall be done’. If all this looks familiar to you, that’s because it is. Nowadays, we use a lot of funny acronyms on the internet, with ‘Lol’ (‘laugh out loud’) being one of the most notable.

Following on, OK was used in the 1840 election campaign of America’s eighth president, Martin Van Buren. His nickname was ‘Old Kinderhook’ and during the campaign, the initials OK were everywhere you looked.

Like many trend words, OK might’ve become obsolete soon enough. But thanks to telegraph operators, who perpetuated its use in and around the 1870s, OK managed to live on. Soon, OK became the standard way of acknowledging that you’d received a transmission.

What do you think of this explanation of this word? Did you think it was OK?

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Amelia Theodorakis
Amelia Theodorakis
A writer and communications specialist with eight years’ in startups, SMEs, not-for-profits and corporates. Interests and expertise in gender studies, history, finance, banking, human interest, literature and poetry.
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