Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Quirky Debut for the Now Ever-Present 'OK'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Quirky Debut for the Now Ever-Present 'OK'

Article excerpt

A new book by popular linguist Allan Metcalf makes the case for 'OK' as 'America's greatest word.'

It's OK. I've written about this before. It's not great. But it's just about everywhere.

Indeed. A new book, "OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word," by Allan Metcalf, argues that this two-letter initialism is the greatest American contribution to the English language.

OK was "invented," if that's the right word, by Charles G. Greene, editor of the Boston Morning Post. Metcalf offers up an exact date for the first appearance in print of OK: March 23, 1839, on page 2.

At this period, Boston and New York were in the midst of a fad of comical misspellings of common words and phrases. OK was - brace yourself - the abbreviation for "oll korrect," a goofy spelling of "all correct."

It's interesting to see what passed for humor in those days. On the other hand, one could argue that this early "o.k." - lowercase and with periods - anticipated by more than a century and a half "c u l8tr" and the like from the world of text messaging.

Greene's joke was the first of four developments that fixed OK in the American language, according to Metcalf. The second was President Martin Van Buren's reelection campaign in 1840.

A Democrat, Van Buren hailed from Kinderhook, N.Y. His nickname was "Old Kinderhook" and his campaign slogan was "Old Kinderhook Is OK." Greene's coinage as a general expression of approval had taken root in less than two years. "That nickname picked up the 1839 abbreviation like a magnet," Metcalf writes. Van Buren lost to William Henry Harrison, a Whig. But OK lived on.

Another newspaperman's joke was responsible for the third phase of OK. …

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