Tuesday, April 24, 2007

What does 'OK' stand for?

The origin of OK was conclusively established 30 years ago, few etymological dictionaries, even recent ones, give it accurately. On the contrary, some persist in giving equal time to explanations that have been discredited for decades.

Eric Partridge, in Origins (1983), says OK derives from the OK Club, which supported Martin "Old Kinderhook" Van Buren in 1840. That isn't wrong, but it's only half the story.

William and Mary Morris, in the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (1977), mention the OK Club and give several other theories as well, including the off-the-wall idea that OK comes from "Aux Cayes," a port in Haiti noted for its rum. They imply the matter is still shrouded in mystery.

The letters, not to keep you guessing, stand for "oll korrect." They're the result of a fad for comical abbreviations that flourished in the late 1830s and 1840s.

Read buttressed his arguments with hundreds of citations from newspapers and other documents of the period. The abbreviation fad began in Boston in the summer of 1838 and spread to New York and New Orleans in 1839. The Boston newspapers began referring satirically to the local swells as OFM, "our first men," and used expressions like NG, "no go," GT, "gone to Texas," and SP, "small potatoes." Many of the abbreviated expressions were exaggerated misspellings, a stock in trade of the humorists of the day. One predecessor of OK was OW, "oll wright," and there was also KY, "know yuse," KG, "know go," and NS, "nuff said."

Most of these acronyms enjoyed only a brief popularity. But OK was an exception, no doubt because it came in so handy. It first found its way into print in Boston in March of 1839 and soon became widespread among the hipper element. Full description here.

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1 Comments:

At 4/24/2007 12:44 PM, Blogger Omernos said...

it's from
Ola Kala
in greek
which translates into
"Everything's Fine"

 

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