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OK - oll correct

Posted by ESC on November 08, 2002

In Reply to: Alan Walker Read. Wordsmith. RIP posted by Gary on November 08, 2002

: : Alan Walker Read died on 16th October aged 96. He was the man who, among many other things, traced the first use of 'OK' back to the Boston Morning Post in 1839. His obituary appeared in today's Times. It's available on-line for the next few days. Link below.

: I think ESC posted that previously under 'OK guy dies'. In that and previous reports of Walker's work I've never been clear what he actually determined the source of OK to be. To quote from ESC's posting - "Old Kinderhook and oll korrect have long been the first accepted sources for the word." Does anyone know whether he was able to determine which?

Professor Read maintained that OK was a joke abbreviation for "oll correct" but the term was popularized by the Martin Van Buren (Old Kinderhook) campaign for U.S. president.

From the archives: Professor Allen Walker Read of Columbia University, "finally unveiled its (O.K.'s) origins in a series of magisterial articles in 'American Speech' in 1963 and 1964.What Professor Read discovered was that the abbreviation arose in a humorous manner at a time when Americans were indulging in a great deal of wordplay, including abbreviations, acronyms, puns and intentional mispronunciations and misspellings. The earliest example of O.K. that he unearthed (and it is so far still the oldest known specimen) is from the Boston 'Morning Post' of March 23, 1839. It appears in connection with a note by the paper's editor, Charles Gordon Greene, about a visit to New York of some members of the local Anti-Bell-Ringing Society. (The A.B.R.S., as it was usually known, was itself something of a joke, having been formed the previous year to oppose -- its name to the contrary -- an ordinance of the Boston Common Council against ringing dinner bells.) In an aside, Mr. Greene suggested that if the Bostonians were to return home via Providence, they might be greeted by one of his rivals, the editor of that city's 'Journal,' who 'would have the 'contribution box,' et ceteras, o.k. -- all correct -- and cause the corks to fly, like sparks, upward.'.Thus, it appears that O.K. was invented, possibly by Greene, as an abbreviation of the jocular 'Oll' or perhaps 'Orl korrect,' meaning "All right.' This explanation would seem farfetched, except for Read's finding that it dovetails with such coinages of the period as O.W. for 'All Right,' as though spelled 'Oll Wright' (this appeared in the Boston 'Morning Post' in 1838, the year before O.K.'s debut); K.G. for 'No Good'; and K.Y. for 'No Yuse.'." From "Devious Derivations: Popular Misconceptions -- and More than 1,000 True Origins of Common Words and Phrases" by Hugh Rawson (toExcel,, 1994, 2000).

Word History: OK is a quintessentially American term that has spread from English to many other languages. Its origin was the subject of scholarly debate for many years until Allen Walker Read showed that OK is based on a joke of sorts. OK is first recorded in 1839 but was probably in circulation before that date. During the 1830s there was a humoristic fashion in Boston newspapers to reduce a phrase to initials and supply an explanation in parentheses. Sometimes the abbreviations were misspelled to add to the humor. OK was used in March 1839 as an abbreviation for all correct, the joke being that neither the O nor the K was correct. Originally spelled with periods, this term outlived most similar abbreviations owing to its use in President Martin Van Buren's 1840 campaign for reelection. Because he was born in Kinderhook, New York, Van Buren was nicknamed Old Kinderhook, and the abbreviation proved eminently suitable for political slogans. That same year, an editorial referring to the receipt of a 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."

But the battle rages on. I've seen discussion on another word site that Professor Read was wrong. I, for one, am ready to accept this origin

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