This is a Wednesday’s Wonderful Words post, in which I chose a word, well-know or otherwise, and discuss why I think it’s so wonderful.
/ˈoʊˈkeɪ, ˌoʊˈkeɪ, ˈoʊˌkeɪ/
1. Accepted; agreed. : So, he said, like, “okay,” and, like, I go “okay.” So we both go “Okay.” Okay?
1. Acceptable. : This cake is okay, but not what I would call first rate.
2. Acceptably. : She ran okay—nothing spectacular.
1. (Someone’s) acceptance. : I won’t give the final okay until I see the plans.
1. To approve something. : She refused to okay our plans.
Boston and New York went through a slang fad, in 1839, of abbreviating words incorrectly. For instance, K.N. stood for ‘Know Go’ and N.C. stood for ‘Nuff Ced’. Luckily for those of us who don’t find this hilarious, this fad died out quickly.
The question is, was O.K. born in this fad? Etymologists think that O.K. stood for ‘Oll Korrect’. Martin Van Buren’s 1840 election campaign used the abbreviation in their slogan, The O.K. Club, alluding to his nickname, Old Kinderhook.
- The campaign could have caused the abbreviation to stick where others failed. This could explain why the other abbreviations are long lost in the depths of time, while O.K. is used regularly today.
The word was further assured a lasting place in the English language some eighty years later. In 1919, the word became employed in legal documentation as a quick means of approving a bill or other official document. Here, it was spelled okeh, as it was thought to have roots in Choctaw (okeh meaning ‘it is so’). For years, dictionaries agreed with this etymology, but it’s now though to be a mistake.
- As with any word of questionable origin, linguists have jumped on the bandwagon and are passing the time proposing the most outlandish etymologies they can think of.
- You can see some of these here.
- The roots in slang, however, seem to be the most accepted among etymologists.
- It’s wonderful how a word can be born relatively recently, and become an everyday household word so quickly.
- It’s also fascinating that people can use this colloquial word in official documentation under a false assumption, and therefore ensure its place in our language.