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Still OK by me

When I finish reading a proof page that is error-free—it does happen—I scribble “OK” in the margin, reinforcing the use of what may be the world’s most popular word.

Today is the anniversary of the introduction of OK to the English language, as demonstrated decades ago by Allen Walker Read and chronicled last year by Allan Metcalf in his splendid OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word (reviewed here).

Pay no attention to the other etymologies you’ll find pushing themselves forward. It was the Boston Morning Post that on March 23, 1839, used OK (a joking abbreviation for the equally joking oll korrect, “all correct”) and gave the word to the language, and it was the peculiar set of circumstances Mr. Metcalf describes that permitted it to flourish.

When we consider how much English has sluttishly appropriated from other languages, it is gratifying to see that it has also given something back. Happy birthday, OK.



Posted by John McIntyre at 3:45 PM | | Comments (21)


That's Boston Morning Post, not

Indeed. Fixed. Thanks.

With my French background, email without the hyphen makes me think of enamel, so I remain faithful to the hyphen, which I like to include anyway.

Hmm.... and here I thought "OK" stood for "Old Knockwurst", from that popular BBC 'tele' series, " 'Allo 'Allo!", where in one particularly naughty episode, a plump and juicy knockwurst sausage was cleverly employed to secrete a photo of the fairly obscure 17th century German painter Wilhelm Van Klomp's stolen masterwork, "Fallen Madonna With the Big Boobies". (The English vulgate (vulgar?) title translation from the original Old German. Clearly not a pair of avian blue-footed boobies depicted here. Perump-pump!)

Prof. McI., I'm pretty sure Picky could back me up on my sources, and confirm "OK'"s rightful origins. Right Picky, old boy?

Curiously, the Vienna-based famed Austrian expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka, a contemporary of such other Viennese world renowned artists as Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, often signed his work w/ a rather large, slapdash, crude looking "OK" signature, obviously his initials.

Whether his paintings were, indeed, merely "OK", or absolutely 'fab' was clearly up to the judgement of the European art critics, and art collectors of the day. But good old Oskar, who I believe just prior to the outbreak of World War II emigrated to London, put his distinctive OK-seal-of-approval after completing many of his sought-after works, even before those pesky critics could say there piece. (The rumor that Oskar K. won the Oscar is completely bogus, although he was prone to the dramatic, and definitely a hard act to follow.HA!)

Ducky "The Kielbasa Kid" Isaksson.............I'm (well) done. Wasn't that the 'wurst?"

Hellfire, Alex, I decline to enter the lists on behalf of 'Allo 'Allo.

Anyway, it stands for Oliver Kromwell.

so, how do you feel about 'OK's' being used in a headline when 'approves' doesn't fit?


I think OK (or Okay) is a casual word. Not a problem to use it in a headline when it's part of a quote, but it's pretty casual for mainline usage. I suppose, though, it depends upon the tone of the piece. If it's light-hearted, maybe it's OK. No hard and fast rules, however. Just the discretion of the editor.

And then there is that offshoot of OK, which is (endearing to some, annoying to others), okey dokey.

And, PCB Rob, let's also not forget the extension of that offshoot: okey dokey artichokey. Having grown up in artichoke country, that one is near and dear to my heart (and stomach, yum!).

"Sluttishly appropriated?"

Titillating usage!

@Picky, old lad, I knew I could count on you to give "OK" that good old historical twist (make that Oliver 'Twist') w/ your "Oliver Kromwell" offering..... even thou you must concede that you took some liberty w/ the dreaded 'enforcer's' surname's initial cap, sneaking in a "K", for the "C".

Parenthetically, here in La La Land, the "OC" is the common media short-form for that longtime bastion of majority ultra-conservative, largely Caucasian, relatively affluent GOP-leaning folk----- Orange County, CA.

Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Tustin, Huntington Beach, and Irvine are all key upwardly-mobile, "OC" communities, yet people-of-color, particularly Vietnamese immigrants (e.g. Garden Grove) and lower-to-middle class Latinos (e.g. Santa Ana) are now making rapid demographic inroads into this once almost totally lily-white county, just south of L.A. County. But I digress.

Clearly the "OK" debate is heating up, and getting just plain ugly. It may, I'm afeared, require another high-noon* shoot-out at the "OK" Corral, back in Tombstone, AZ. Instead of regular six-shooters, the designated combatants would exchange salvos of nasty verbal barbs, and biting rhetorical queries, until, through sheer mental exhaustion and larynx fatigue, one side would hopefully surrender, and the victorious team's derivation of "OK" would officially prevail. (I know this scenario sounds pretty lame, but it's all I got right now. HA!)

*(I believe the almost mythic 19th century alleged half-minute-long skirmish at the "OK" Corral took place in the early hours of that fateful October morn, yet that riveting Gary Cooper classic high-noon show-down on dusty main-street, cow-town U.S.A. seems to have biased my historical perspective. HA!)

Ducky "OKie-Dokie-from-Muskogee" Isaksson................ DRAW!

(Apologies to country-crooner Merle Haggard.......... w/ the Okie/ Muskogee bit. HA!)

But the new way to say this in texting is just k.

Toma, that's also the old way to say it in casual speech. K? K.


@toma, ........"k", indeed!

The way these all-thumbs 'texters' of this new generation have been gradually paring down (I would argue, eroding) the English language to cutesy short-form code on there "i" and smart phones, there may just be a future time when we actually come face-to-face, where our fundamental language skills will have become so damn atrophied, or 'cyber-fried', that we'll find ourselves suddenly at a total loss for words, and moreover, will have to resort to basic grunting, arm & hand gestures, and facial cues just to communicate w/ one another-----not unlike our early ancestors, the Neanderthals, back in those non-verbal, slightly more brutish times. GRUNT! GRUNT!...... BURP! (Boy that Wooly Mammoth shank was way undercooked........ and too darn wooly for my taste.)

Hmm....... sometimes I really wonder if homo sapiens/sapiens' opposable thumbs were really such a good thing? But then again, those crafty 'texters' would undoubtedly find some other combination of dexterous digits to peck out their coded tweets, e-mails, and such-----sans thumbs. Where there's a will, there's definitely a way.

Folks, I believe we are all doomed. HA! Mercy!

Ducky "Cro-Magnon" Isaksson........... qué tal?

If the Neanderthals had had texting, we wouldn't have fire.

Laura Lee,

Oh, those infernal Neaderthals!

All thumbs, yet they still had slightly bigger brain mass than us so-called more 'evolved' homo sapiens..........."naked apes" in the parlance of the late Desmond Morris.

Wow! Brains and beauty too........... what an irresistible combination. And their sartorial minimalism was revolutionary for Pleistocene climes (and times.). If PETA were around back in the day, those metro-sexuals (caveman chic HA!)) of their day, the Neanderthals, w/ their stylish furs, and all, would have been in deep doo-dung. HA! (But I digress............ a few thousands of years, give or take ten-thousand.)

Laura, for some odd reason your conflation of the Neanderthals and "fire" ( a no-brainer association) in your last post sparked a vision of that iconic scene from "A Space Odessey: 2001" of the ape-man (the very black, hirsute, irate proto-human) tossing that giant bone through the air, and as it spun, end-on-end, in awesome slow-motion, a seamless Stanley Kubrick magical match-cut suddenly morphs the bone before our eyes into a giant futuristic spacecraft crossing the inky depths of our galaxy. A visual telescoping of millions of years into one amazing, brain-etched filmic moment for mankind, one huge step for that femur-tossing ape-man. (Apologies to astronaut Neil Armstrong.......... or was it "Buzz" "Dancing w/ the Stars" Aldrin?)

Laura, you always make me think way outside that proverbial box. As always, thanks for the inspiration, and poetry wrapped in your refined prose.

Ducky "Cro-Magnon" Isaksson.............. Houston we have a lift off! We have a lift off!

Ducky, isn't the usual phrase "Houston, we have lift off?" (No article before lift off.)

Now for a segue, while we are speaking of Neanderthals. I read somewhere that people with red hair get that from Neanderthal ancestors. Can anyone shed light on that connection? (Before anyone gets feathers ruffled, I will admit that we have lots of red-heads in our family.)

Regarding redheads, Dahlink, for some reason your post immediately brought to mind King David. At the time of being annointed by Samuel, David was described as "... ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to." (1 Samuel 16:12, KJV.)

Some have taken the word "ruddy" to suggest David's redheadedness. And now you've got me wondering if David had pronounced Neanderthal traits. And if he did, what were they? Idle curiosity is running rampant here at my place!

Thanks loads, Dahlink.


Sorry, Tim! Personally, I think the Neanderthals have gotten a bad rap from uppity Homo sapiens.

I did have one teacher in high school who could have posed for the artist's rendering of Neanderthal Man, but he had dark hair.

About proofreading: One attractive, but probably not correct, theory about OK is that it stand for German "Ohne Korrektur" (without corrections). There were a lot of Germans in the United States in the early 1800's, and many of them were skilled craftsmen, for example printers. So a German origin is not unlikely, but I guess that Oll Korrect is the last word.

For some reason that last post reminds me of Michael Constantine's character in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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