March 23, OK Day. Where did OK really come from?

Ok is the most frequently spoken (or typed) word on the planet, it’s bigger even than an infant’s first word ma or the ubiquitous Coke.

Sounds weird but OK…

Ok was born from a meme in 19th century Boston that was the early ancestor of OMG, LOL, and tl;dr.

The meme was to reduce a phrase to initials and supply an explanation in parentheses.

Sometimes the abbreviations were misspelled to add to the humor.  For example, ” no go” was k.g. (know go) and “all right” was o.w. (oll write).

What was the mysterious affair with Maria Monk?

And even the newspaper had to clarify the final G.t.d.h.d.  It means “Give the devil his due”. Got it, OK?

OK was used in March 1839 as an abbreviation for all correct, the joke being that neither the O nor the K was correct.

OK could have died there except for President Martin Van Buren

Because he was born in Kinderhook, New York, Van Buren was nicknamed Old Kinderhook, and the abbreviation cried out for political slogans.

“Vote for OK” was snappier than using his Dutch name.

Some slogans and epithets that didn’t last the course included Locofocos (for democrats), Hocofocus (for Whigs) and Butt-enders (for Democrats again).

That same year, an editorial referring a campaign pin with the slogan O.K. had this comment:

“frightful letters … significant of the birth-place of Martin Van Buren, old Kinderhook, as also the rallying word of the Democracy of the late election, ‘all correct’…. Those who wear them should bear in mind that it will require their most strenuous exertions … to make all things O.K.”

OK continued with Andrew Jackson

The editor of the New York Morning Herald wrote that Jackson was such a terrible speller that he believed “ole kurrek” was the proper spelling of “all correct” and signed “O.K.” on his presidential papers to indicate his approval.

The myth spread far and wide.

Van Buren didn’t win the 1840 election but OK did.

The invention of the telegraph made the use of OK as shorthand for “all right” commonplace.

It started to appear in everyday speech, and in 1864 it showed up in the Slang Dictionary of Vulgar Words.

It popped up periodically in popular culture as well. The OK Corral, Livery and Feed Stable in Tombstone, Arizona, became world-famous in 1881 after the legendary gunfight that included Doc Holliday and the three Earp brothers.

In the 1943 musical “Oklahoma!,” Rogers and Hammerstein declared that the state was “O.K.,” and the 1967 Thomas Harris book “I’m OK, You’re OK” was one of the most popular self-help guides ever written.


Some doubters continue to insist that the word, in fact, has a much earlier origin than a 19th-century editorial joke. We’ll just have to be OK with never knowing for absolute sure.


Sources : America Heritage Directory, The First Stage in the history of OK, The Second Stage in the history of OK,  Mental Floss





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