« Refudiate Revisitated | Main | From Babel to Esperanto »

November 24, 2010

OK, OK, Revenge Of The OK Corral

One of those puzzles about language is where words come from and how they spread. By most measures, the word "OK" (if you can even call it a word) is by far the most....

...widely used word on our planet.

It is common across Africa and Asia and certainly across North and South America.

But where did it come from?

I have heard many stories over the years. Some have been convincing, some aren't.

Alan Metcalf wondered about it so long he wrote a whole book about the process and history of this strange abbreviation/slang nearly universal word; OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word.

If you want to read or listen to a short analysis click here - 0- http://www.npr.org/2010/11/17/131390650/ok-how-two-letters-made-america-s-greatest-word?sc=fb&cc=fp.

"One reason OK is so important, Metcalf argues, is because it embodies America's can-do philosophy in just two letters."If something's OK, that's OK, it'll work, maybe it's not perfect but it'll work, and that's an American attitude.""

I've seen it spelled different ways, "okay" “O.K.,” “OK,” and sometimes even “okey” or “okeh”, but my general preference is that the simpler the word is spelled or used, the better.

I have used it - and heard it used - as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, interjection, abbreviation, or acronym (technically, an initialism). I think I'd have to define it as a "term" instead of a word, but that makes me rethink my standard definition of a word - can a word be two capital letters? "Ok" just looks silly.

Whatever we call it, and however we spell it, "OK" continues to be so popular because it is so unbelievably useful. It, like the word "ain't", is what I call a one-size-fits-all, all-purpose word.

Metcalf even thinks we should celebrate OK on March 23, its birthday. Not very many words have a specific birthdate, but this author is convinced. And I have to say that it is OK with me.

For another view of this particular word's history, take a look at GOOD magazine's appraisal here - http://www.good.is/post/why-ok-is-america-s-most-useful-and-compact-invention/

Let us know what it is about English that you find confounding, infuriating or endlessly intriguing.

Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

My best to you as you make your way through this intriguing , constantly shifting linguistic landscape.


About the author of this entry:

Morf has a B.A.from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and an MAT (Master's in Teaching English) from the University of Washington (Seattle). Morf is currently a radio host (tacoma.fm) and a newspaper columnist http://www.thenewstribune.com/opinion/columnists/morf_morford/.

Posted by mmorf at November 24, 2010 09:18 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)