Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The origin of OK

It started one day in 1839, when a few [Boston] newspaper editors were joking around.

"They had a lot of abbreviations that they were using and made up on the spot and thought they were terrifically funny," [author Allan] Metcalf says. "And OK was an abbreviation for 'All Correct.'"

Now most of those jokey abbreviations faded blissfully into history. But OK's star was rising — thanks in part to President Martin Van Buren's re-election campaign in 1840.

The mutton-chopped incumbent hailed from the town of Kinderhook, N.Y.

"He got the nickname Old Kinderhook, and early in 1840, OK clubs sprung up with the slogan, 'OK is OK.'" ...

The man Van Buren succeeded as president, Andrew Jackson, even got roped into the "OK" story — because of a campaign dirty trick, Metcalf says.

"One of Martin Van Buren's opponents who also opposed Jackson because they both were Democrats, claimed that Andrew Jackson had been a terrible speller, and so he would get a document and when he approved it he would write O period K period on it indicating that it was all correct."

Even though the story wasn't true — Metcalf says Jackson was actually quite a good speller — it stuck. And within the next two decades someone else began writing OK on documents as a sign of approval.

Soon, OK was being used for the telegraph, like an early form of the LOLs and OMGs we send in text messages today. ...

[T]he word continued to struggle for elite acceptance — until Woodrow Wilson, the only president to earn a Ph.D., gave his stamp of approval.

"He thought it had really come from a Choctaw Indian word, which he spelled 'okeh,' which was their equivalent of something like OK," Metcalf says.
--NPR on how OK became OK

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