The Unusual Origin of the Word ‘ OK’


In 1839, Boston newspapers printed a jokey item about a popular new fad: the use of the expression “O.K.” to mean “all correct.” The craze had started in New York a few months earlier, and the Boston journalists thought it was amusing enough to deserve a mention. They included a fake etymology for the expression, tracing it back to an abbreviated form of an old Greek phrase.

The jokey item was picked up by other newspapers across the country, and before long “O.K.” was being used by people all over the United States. It became so common that it was soon abbreviated to just “OK.”

The origin of the expression “O.K.” is actually unknown. It may have come from a misspelling of the word “orl korrect,” which was a popular slogan during the presidential election of 1840. Or it may have been a deliberate misspelling of “oll korrect,” which was another slogan of the same election.

It’s also possible that the expression was originally used in the military, as a code for “Oll Korrect,” meaning “All Correct.” This would explain why the expression became popular in the United States, which was just beginning to build its military power at the time.

Whatever its origins, “OK” quickly became a part of the American language. It was used in all sorts of contexts, from casual conversation to jokes to serious writing. It even became an adjective, as in the phrase “That’s OK.”

In the mid-20th century, the use of “OK” spread to other English-speaking countries, and it is now used around the world. It has even been adopted into other languages, such as French, German, and Japanese.

So next time you use the expression “OK,” remember that you are taking part in a bit of American history.

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