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Subject:Re: Use of "OK" From:Scott Browne <sbrowne -at- UNICOMP -dot- NET> Date:Thu, 15 May 1997 13:38:45 -0600
Kathleen Padova wrote: <snip>
> Someone told me a long time ago that OK stood for Old Kinderhook
> which was the nickname of one of our former presidents who used to
> sign off documents with an OK. (Blech, what a messy sentence!)
> Can any of you tell me why "OK" is correct? Or why any of the
> others is correct, if the case may be?
This is what _The_Dictionary_of_Misinformation_ by Tom Burnam says on
the Origin of O.K.
The most nearly universal of American expressions has been the
subject of much research. It is still widely believed that Andrew
Jackson, admittedly not the most literate of our presidents, thought
"O.K." was an abbreviation of "oll kurrect," his spelling of "all
correct." For many years, following the earlier researches of the
noted linguist Allen Walker Read, it appeared established to
scholars, however, that "O.K." derived from Old Kinderhook, N.Y.,
Martin Van Buren's birthplace. And it is true that "O.K.," as in "The
Democratic O.K. [for "Old Kinderhook"] Club," was a Van Buren
Rallying cry in 1840. It was also thought that the Andrew Jackson
attribution was an attempt to belittle Van Buren, an ardent Jackson
But further research by Read uncovered material showing that "O.K."
really once was an abbreviation of "oll kurrect" -- though the
connection with Jackson remains to be established, if indeed there is
any connection. Briefly, a craze for comic misspellings and
abbreviations arose among wags and wits in and around Boston in the
late 1830s. In this context, Read discovered an occurrence of "O.K."
in print in March of 1839 -- identified by the Boston _Morning_Post_,
however, as standing for "all correct," knowledge of the comic
misspelling on the part of the reader evidently being assumed. Those
interested in the full story should see the series of articles by
Read in issues of _American_Speech_ for February, May, and October
1963; and February, May, and December 1964.
Though Read does not seem to take much stock in them, it should be
added that there have been attempts to explain "O.K." as deriving
from certain black forms, ultimately African: Jamaican oh ki, c.
1818; and a Surinam expression, okee.
Regardless of what it is ultimately from, it seems that the most
correct form would be O.K. with the periods, since it is an
abbreviation. Although for myself, in casual writing, I just use
"ok" and in more formal situations, I spell it out - "okay".
sbrowne -at- unicomp -dot- net
"If ignorance is bliss, why aren't more people happy?"