OK Is Everywhere, But Where Did It Come From?

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OK Is Everywhere, but Where Did It Come From?

Even in 2019, I still get into arguments discussions with prescriptivists about the current state of the English language. And, they STILL insist that all the shorthand lingo going on via text and messenger apps is “destroying the language.” But, what’s funny is that this isn’t a new fad. In fact, compared with what Bostonians were getting up to in 1838, OMG seems pretty tame, LOL. Want proof? Here it is: OK.


The origins of OK may date back further, but most sources point to a fad beginning in the summer of 1838 in Boston. The details surrounding why are scarce, but it became fashionable to create new (and frankly unintelligible) acronyms all. the. time. Seriously, they used them for everything. NG for no go. SP for small potatoes.


But, they took some in a weird direction, using exaggerated misspellings to arrive at a new acronym, like in one of OK’s predecessors, OW for oll wright…or all right for most of us. Enter “Oll Korrect” or “Ole Kurreck” and the little two-letter word that would later take over the world – OK.


Unlike the rest of these bizarre acronyms (though I think we should bring back SP), OK stuck around thanks to Martin Van Buren’s 1840 presidential bid. Being from Kinderhook, N.Y., Van Buren came to be known as “Old Kinderhook” by his supporters. Plus, “Vote for OK,” had a pretty nice ring to it.


Fast forward about 180 years, and OK has taken over languages all over the world. It’s everywhere. But, it’s also a good reminder that language changes over time. The dictionary doesn’t regulate language – it reflects how we use it. When I’m proofreading, I inevitably have to look up how a particular audience uses a term (my most recent conundrum being orthotic vs. orthosis).


So, yes, most of the shorthand text-speak will probably fade into obscurity. But, hey, you never know – one of those little acronyms might be the next OK.