Okay, so over the past few weeks, I haven’t been very active in this space. I’ve been posting sporadically and haven’t been regularly visiting the many other wonderful blogs I normally visit regularly. I apologize for that and I will be working to make the rounds again now in the coming days as summer begins.
The last many weeks have been busy ones for me as I took on the full-time coverage for the maternity leave of a high school English teacher. Though it’s been a blast, it has also taken a lot of time and energy and I’ve had to let some things slide. But now the final exams have nearly all been given and the grades are almost submitted, and much like eighth president of the United States Martin Van Buren, I’m OK.
Van Buren was only a candidate for the presidency when, in 1840, he first became known as “Old Kinderhook,” because he was from Kinderhook, New York. His supporters across the nation formed OK clubs and many historians assumed that this is how the ubiquitous little acronym OK, and the word “okay,” that it spawned, was born.
In truth, the Van Buren campaign may have influenced the persistence of the word, but that’s not where it started. Twenty-eighth president Woodrow Wilson was convinced the word had Native American roots, coming from the Choctaw word okeh, first borrowed by seventh president Andrew Jackson.
That explanation sure sounds okay, but it turns out it wasn’t right either. Neither were the assumptions made by various other o. k. linguists and who knows how many okay American presidents that the word descended from Latin, Greek, Swedish, or Mandingo.
It wasn’t until the more than ok work of word historian Allen Walker Read in 1963 that the world learned the story of its favorite word, a word that is understood in nearly every language in the world. Read explained in the magazine American Speech that o.k. was first used in 1839 as an abbreviation for “all correct” by an editor for the Boston Morning Post, and was meant as a friendly poke at a colleague at the Providence Journal in Providence, Rhode Island.
To modern readers that story probably sounds a little strange, but Read explained that at the time, there was a brief craze in English over both abbreviations and intentional misspellings. Well, ok.
And really, if you consider the modern teenager, with whom I’ve recently spent a great deal of time, it’s not so hard to imagine written communication carried out almost entirely in acronyms and misspelled words. Also, I think we can trust Allen Walker Read, as he is also the man who presented the world with a thorough understanding of the origin of the F_ _ _ word. But that’s another blog post.
The origin of ok or o.k. or OK or okay certainly doesn’t make for a glamorous story, but then maybe that’s appropriate. The really curious thing, I think, is how it managed to work its way into the speech of so many various cultures. I somehow doubt that it was all due to the influence of Martin Van Buren.
Perhaps the word has just evolved because as a species, we humans don’t always have something all that brilliant or important to say and so we end up saying things that are just ok. All I do know is that whatever corner of the world you’re from, you probably know what I mean when I say it. And that’s okay with me.