From everyday mannerisms to common greetings, our lives are full of tiny customs that we barely blink an eye at. Here on Mind Fuel Daily, we’re looking into the origins of some of our most ingrained social habits.
Okay? Ok? O.k.! We say it all day, every day. It’s an affirmation, a form of agreement, and a way to express how we’re feeling. But where did this word come from?
There have been several theories regarding the invention of the word, “okay.” But among historians, the most common explanation says “o.k.” comes from the 19thcentury. Back then, it was popular for newspaper writers to use playful abbreviations in lieu of entire phrases (think of it as the early version of “lol” or “omg”). “O.k.” was the abbreviation for “oll korrect” or “all correct” and was meant to express approval.
“O.k.” first appeared in 1839 in a Boston article about proper grammar. It was also a joke on the writer’s part: “oll korrect” is not, well, grammatically correct.
The abbreviation then gained national popularity in 1840, when President Martin Van Buren was given the nickname “OK” during his reelection campaign. “OK” stood for “Old Kinderhook”, Van Buren’s birth town in New York. Van Buren supporters nicknamed themselves the “O.K. Club.” To retaliate, opponents started using it as well, claiming it stood for “ol’ katastrophe” or “orally confused”. But whether you liked Van Buren or not, “o.k.” started popping up everywhere in newspapers and slogans!
Afterward, rumors started that former president, Andrew Jackson, used the abbreviation to seal official documents. According to the Allan Metcalf, author of OK: The Improbably Story Of America’s Greatest Word, people then actually began marking documents and signing off telegrams with “o.k.” What originated as a joke turned into a quick and efficient way to say “all is well.”
While other 19thcentury habits may have gone out of style, it’s a linguistic wonder that o.k. that okay is still with us today.