May 17, 2009 1 Comment
From Adventures in Editing:
05.16.09 | The Origins of OK
Posted in Editorial Musings at 7:07 pm by Administrator
How many times a day do you say or write “OK”? Quite a few, right? Now, have you ever wondered where “OK” came from? Perhaps not, but since one of my main jobs is to tell you things you never knew you wanted to know, I am about to tell you some of the history of “OK.”
For the record, I am summarizing from The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories. If you want the complete story, please refer to that fine, fun volume.
You may already know that “OK” is thought to be an abbreviation for “all correct.” That’s great, but then shouldn’t the abbreviation be “AC”? Just imagine thousands of sixteen-year-olds saying, “Mom, I’m borrowing the car tonight, AC?” Sounds weird, right? Either “OK” was created by a bad speller or there is more to the story. Turns out there is more to the story.
Apparently there was an “abbreviation fad” in American cities in the 1830s (when “OK” appeared, and way before text messaging!). Abbreviating phrases was the hip thing to do. “One kind kiss before we part” became “O.K.K.B.W.P.,” which sounds so nineteenth century compared to “LOL” or “BFF.” It was also fashionable to deliberately misspell words and then abbreviate them. “All right” became “oll wright” and was abbreviated “O.W.” Got it? (Webster does not mention whether this misspelling-and-abbreviating fad was actually a conspiracy among young people to confuse old people. I see room for further research here.)
You are undoubtedly way ahead of me by now and have already figured out that “all correct” was transformed into “oll korrect,” which was abbreviated “OK.” OK?
There is another theory, which says that “OK” is from the Choktaw word “okeh.” Woodrow Wilson used the “okeh” spelling, considering “OK” to be just plain wrong. Some people just like to be different.
Which story is korrect? I prefer the misspelling/abbreviating conspiracy theory. Let’s never take our language so seriously that we forbid ourselves from playing with it. OK? Oll wright!