SCIENCE
11/11/2014 08:49 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

OK, So Here's The Real Story Of Where 'OK' Comes From

huffyi "OK" is certainly one of the most common expressions in the English language--and one of the most versatile. After all, it can be used as an adjective, a noun, and a verb.

But what do the letters in OK stand for? And where did the expression come from in the first place?

Over the years, a variety of explanations have been offered. Some have argued that OK came from the Native American Indian tribe Choctaw's word "okeh." Others have suggested it came from a word in the Wolof language of Sub-Saharan Africa.

But a new article published in Smithsonian magazine maintains that OK has its origins in early 19th Century Boston--a time when it was trendy for writers to use playful abbreviations. According to the article, celebrated etymologist Dr. Allen Walker Read (1906-2002) argued that OK first appeared as an abbreviation for "Oll Korrect" in a satirical piece on grammar that was published in the Boston Morning Post in 1839.

"Allen Walker Read's findings about the origin of 'OK' as a jocular abbreviation from the late 1830s still stand," Dr. Laurence R. Horn, a professor of linguistics and philosophy at Yale University, told The Huffington Post in an email.

The expression gained popularity soon after when it was used as the name of a political organization, called the O.K. Club. That is, the letters may have originated as an abbreviation for "oll korrect," but in this case the letters stood for the birthplace of President Martin Van Buren--Old Kinderhook, N.Y.

"Read points out that the trajectory of the term was affected by its adoption as the moniker for Martin Van Buren ('Old Kinderhook')," Horn explained in the email. "So Van Buren and his supporters didn't create the term, but kept it very much alive."

Horn said that many other satirical abbreviations got their start around the same time as OK but are no longer used--including K.Y. for "know yuse," K.G. for "no go," and O.W. for "oll wright."

Maybe someday a linguist of the future will weigh in on the origins of contemporary expressions like BRB (be right back) and LOL (laughing out loud).

HuffPost

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