/What does OK mean?

What does OK mean?

The English language is full of abbreviations. While the words behind many of these shorthands tend to seem pretty obvious (like feet for feet and VP for vice president), there are plenty of lesser-known examples, even among the common abbreviations we use in everyday speech and writing.

In fact, not everyone will have the answer if you ask what “am” and “pm” mean, or why we use “lb”. for short a pound. And I recently realized that despite saying and texting it multiple times a day, I had no idea what OK means.

In general, we use OK or okay to express assent, agreement or acceptance. It can also be an adjective or adverb to suggest that something is satisfying. Over time, it has even become a verb and a noun to indicate approval or authorization. OK now appears in countless languages ​​around the world and was even one of the first sounds uttered on the moon.

Despite the ubiquity of “OK,” my informal survey of friends and colleagues found that none knew the words behind those two letters.

This is not terribly surprising. Even etymologists were not sure of the meaning and origin of OK for many years. Some suggested that it was derived from Choctaw “okeh,” which means “is”, while others pointed out West African origins through the Mande and Wolof languages. Additional theories involved orrin kendallmaker of a popular Army biscuit that sustained many Union soldiers during the Civil War, or the Haitian port of Aux Cayes, famous for its rum exports.

Although some debate persists, the most widely accepted explanation among language experts comes from the late etymologist and lexicographer Allen Walker Read. Read, a professor at Columbia University, examined the history of “OK” in a series of articles published in American Speech in 1963 and 1964, concluding that it comes from “oll korrect”, an intentional misspelling of “all correct”.

“Discovered that Charles Gordon Green of the Boston Morning Post came up with a spelling joke shared by newspapers, like an Internet meme from an earlier time,” etymologist. barry popik he told HuffPost. “’OK’ means ‘all right’. That should be ‘AC’, but it’s a joke.”

In fact, the first known published appearance of OK with this meaning comes from an article in the March 23, 1839 edition of The Boston Morning Post, describing the activities of a satirical organization called the Anti-Bell Ringing Society.

The above is from providence diary, whose editor is too quick on the trigger, this time around. We did not say a word about the passage of our delegation “through the city” of Providencia. — We said that our brothers were going to New York at the Richmond, and they did, according to the Post on Thursday. The “Chairman of the Charity Lecture Bells Committee” is one of the delegation, and perhaps if he returned to Boston, via Providence, he of the Journal, and his train-band, would have its “contribution box”, etc., okay — all right — and make the corks fly, like sparksupwards.

subsequent mentions of “OK, all right” appeared in The Boston Morning Post over the next few days and weeks, and the term soon found its way into other newspapers such as the baltimore sun and The Philadelphia Gazette.

This kind of intentional misspelling is reminiscent of more recent linguistic fads, such as the use of “kewl” or “kool” instead of “cool” and common abbreviations like LOL and NSFW.

“We think of intentional misspellings as a modern phenomenon, but I love that period in American history, the 1830s and 1840s, because it feels like a time when Americans really started to have fun with their language already. do things like come up with creative innovations,” said the lexicographer and Wall Street Journal columnist ben room. “OK grew out of a sort of abbreviation game that was popular in the US and UK at the time, long before text language. It’s fun because it combines two playful tendencies: funny misspellings and this trend of making abbreviations for phrases, like NG for ‘not good.’

Other abbreviations for misspelled words at the time included KY for “know yuse”, which meant “don’t use”, and KG for “know go”, as in “no-go”.

“Before OK there was OW, which was a misspelled version of ‘okay’ – ‘oll wright,’” Zimmer added. “That appears first in The Boston Morning Post and then OK appears. The publisher was having a lot of fun with this.”

However, we may have politics to thank for propelling OK to new heights.

“People at one point assumed it came from Martin Van Buren’s nickname ‘Old Kinderhook’ during the 1840 presidential election,” Zimmer said. “There were buttons that said ‘OK,’ so people assumed the Van Buren campaign came up with it, but they were just taking advantage of this thing that came from Boston.”

Supporters of the Democratic incumbent even formed “OK Clubs,” some of which had the slogan “OK is OK!” But Van Buren’s Whig Party opponents used OK in a very different way: to denigrate his predecessor and mentor Andrew Jackson.

A March 1840 edition of The New York Herald promulgated or originated the rumor that Jackson was illiterate and believed that “all right” was spelled “ole kurrek”, so he wrote OK on the official documents to indicate his approval. Thus the myth spread, catapulting OK into the national conversation. And as they say, the rest is history.

The fact that OK has managed to maintain such a command of our everyday language in the US and well beyond the English-speaking world is impressive, to say the least. The late linguist Allan Metcalf even wrote a book called “OK: The Improbable History of America’s Greatest Word” and proposed a holiday called “OK Day” on March 23 to celebrate their first known date on March 23, 1839. .

“I agree with Allan Metcalf’s point in his book that it’s an incredibly unlikely story — that this two-word abbreviation coming from a fun little fad in the 1830s could take over the world,” Zimmer said. “It just shows that language develops in unexpected ways. The things that people find interesting or fun and want to use can come from all kinds of different sources.”

Zimmer believes that looking at examples from the past, like OK, can help us understand the way people are innovating with language today through memes and online slang, still including funny abbreviations. And while we think of past language as formal because we’re used to finding it through literature and nonfiction texts, we can find more informal and playful writing in places like old comics and newspaper humor columns.

“You can see that there is this momentum that predates modern communication and technology,” Zimmer said. “You could use newspapers in the past to spread this creative stuff. That is fascinating to me. I love the way we can see the joy of language through an example like OK. People have at their disposal the basic components of language and can always invent something new.