Today we celebrate not only the single most recognized Americanism ever, but also the single most recognizable word period.
On this day in 1839, OK was first published in the Boston Morning Post. Oddly, the word sprung from an intentional misspelling of “all correct.” Following a pre-Civil War fad of misspelling words for comic effect, “all correct” was spelled “oll korrect.” The word gained widespread usage but with a different meaning during the reelection campaign of President Martin Van Buren in 1840. Van Buren’s nickname was “Old Kinderhook” which alluded to his hometown of Kinderhook, New York. The initials OK became his rallying cry, and even though Van Buren lost the election to William Henry Harrison, OK gained popular usage, becoming an entrenched part of American English.
In the book America in So Many Words, David Barnhart and Allan Metcalf explain how and why OK became such a popular American linguistic export:
OK was quickly recognized as a brief, distinctive, universally understood annotation to indicate approval of a document, and a brief, distinctive, universally understood spoken response to indicate understanding and acceptance of a request or order. (1).
In fact Allan Metcalf, an English professor in Illinois, claims that OK is the single most spoken and typed word in the world. He should know since he wrote an entire book on the word in 2010 called OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word.
Clearly OK, no matter how you spell it — OK, O.K., ok, okay, okey, or ‘key — is here to stay.
Today’s Challenge: Okie-dokie Proverbs
OK is the most popular word in English, but what do you get when you string together popular words into phrases or clauses? What you usually get are proverbs: short, distilled statements of wisdom that are repeated frequently both because they are concise and because they express time-tested insights into human experience, such as “The pen is mightier than the sword” or “Practice makes perfect.” Whether you call them proverbs, sayings, adages, maxims, motts, or aphorisms, they are recognized, repeated, and recycled from generation to generation. What would you say is the single most important proverb? What makes it important, and what do you know about its origin? Brainstorm a list of proverbs. Select the one you think is the most influential and important. Then, make your case by explaining what the proverb means and why it is so important. Do a bit of research on its origin and history to provide your audience with some details that go beyond the obvious. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
Quotation of the Day: I think OK should be celebrated with parades and speeches. But for now, whatever you do [to mark the anniversary], it’s OK. -Allan Metcalf
1- Barnhart, David and Allan Metcalf. America in So Many Words: Words That Have Shaped America. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.