The Story of OK

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We all use the word "OK" in many contexts, but we always thought that it was derived from 'Okay'. Is it true? or something else? There is some interesting story behind it.


There is a two-letter word we hear everywhere i.e. O.K. might be the most recognizable word on this planet.

It’s essential to how we communicate with each other and even with our technology. We probably use it every day without even knowing it. But what OK means to us or any mode of communication and most importantly where does it come from.

OK then. Let’s take a trip into the past to find out it’s origin. 

O.K. actually traces back to the 1830s, when Boston’s young intellectuals started the fad of intentionally abbreviating certain expressions incorrectly as a joke to entertain certain people. Some examples of those words were… 

i.e. KC- Knuff Ced (enough said)

KU- know use (no use)

OW- oll wright (all right)

P.S. Pretty confusing but HAHA.

But thanks to those people, one abbreviation rose above the rest: OK or “oll korrect”.

In the early 1800s, the ‘all correct’, term was used as a common phrase to confirm that everything was in order.

But its abbreviated cousin started going mainstream on 23rd March 1989, when OK was first published in the Boston morning post.

So here comes the catch regarding the release of the word O.K., and all the other daily newspapers toOK that as a jOKe and spread it around the country and O.K became famous as everyone knew about that word, not some few Boston’s insiders. 

Here comes another thing as OK became so famous that it even prompted a falling US president from Kinderhook, New York, as he adapted OK as a nickname for his re-election campaign. He was none other than the 8th president of the United States, ‘Martin Van Buren’ and it was in 1840 that his supporters even formed OK clubs all over the country, which spread a simple message as OK-‘old Kinderhook’, now transformed to “oll korrect”. But the newspapers used the situation and turn it into one of the oldest memes of the USA. His conspirators abbreviated the o.k. into “old katastrophe” or “orfull konspiracy”. HAHA

It didn’t save his presidency but O.K was now famous.

That campaign firmly established OK in the American vernacular. As the time goes on similar abbreviations fell but OK made the crossover from slang into a legitimate functional use.

 When the electrical telegraph was invented in 1844, the word O.K became highly functional.

As the telegraph uses dots and dashes to represent alphabets, OK’s moment came to shine as it could be easily used. OK played an integral part in US rail services as one of the service manuals saying that, ‘no official message is transmitted until it states O.K’.

OK had become a serious business.

But here the word is not used simply because of it’s easy pronunciation but depends upon the loOKs, but only dependent on k. (more specifically). Also, it sounds very uncommon for any word to start with the letter ‘k’, and that rarity leads to a spark of ads’s successes, as one company used ‘K’ instead of ‘C’, to bring more attention towards it. As the main idea was to change the starting alphabet which will create more attention towards their product and it did, as in “kool-aid”.

It’s the k which made the ad memorable.

P.S. the kool-aid mascot, screaming ‘Oh yeah’, holding a pitcher filled with kool-aid drink.

But by 1890s, the Bostonian origin of OK had been forgotten and people started to debate it’s history and that led to myths that OK came from Okhey, in the Choctaw language, which means ‘so it is’.

OK’s beginning became more obscure but it didn’t matter anymore.

The word was embedded in our language.

Today we use it as the ultimate “neutral affirmative” and writer Allan Metcalf explained OK as the word “affirms without evaluating”, meaning it does not convey any feelings – it just acknowledges and accepts information. It’s now sort of reflex at this point when we don’t know how much we use it which might be the reason of why OK was arguably the first word spOKen when humans first landed on the moon.

Not bad for a corny jOKe from the 1830s.

All right OK then.

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Shaheer Shah
Shaheer Shah
3 years ago

A great content on the word that we use the most…will be looking forward to more such content!

1 month ago

Can you be more specific about the content of your article? After reading it, I still have some doubts. Hope you can help me.

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Srinivas Moghekar

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