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The Origin Story of the word ‘OK’

Team StoryWeavers|July 16, 2021| 104

Here’s a quiz: which is that one English word that is recognized throughout the world and no other word of any language has succeeded like that? 

Can you guess the answer? No? Here is another clue. 

Let’s say you’re setting off to see the world and aside from saying please and thank you in a smattering of languages you pretty much only know English. What is the one word that most of the people you encounter will also know?

If you don’t know what that word is, it’s OK.

Seriously: it’s OK. The word “OK”.

Time for a little word history, OK?

So just where did this word come from? For years, its origin was a mystery. 

One theory is that it came from the Greek phrase “ola kala,” which means all good.

And then there’s the Choctaw word “okeh”. The Choctaw were Native American people originally occupying what is now the Southeastern United States. The Choctaw word “okeh” sounds quite similar and means ‘so it is’. American president Woodrow Wilson reportedly thought it was the “correct” spelling of the word, and would OK documents with “okeh.”

And finally, the most famous OK origin story was reinforced in the 2012 Academy Award-winning movie, “Silver Linings Playbook”:

PAT: “Here’s a fun fact. You know where the term ‘OK’ comes from?”

VERONICA: “No. No, I don’t.”

PAT: “Well, Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States of America, is from Kinderhook, New York . . . and he was part of a club, a men’s club, called Old Kinderhook. And if you were cool, you were in the club, they’d say, ‘That guy’s OK.’ ‘Cause he was in the Old Kinderhook’s.”

Is that true? Umm no, not really (so not OK!)

The real origin story of OK is literally a joke

Much like the modern-day world filled with text-friendly shortcuts such as LOL, BRB and OMG, an abbreviation craze swept nineteenth-century America. 

Let us present for comparison the 1839 New York newspaper report of a young woman remarking to her friend “O.K.K.B.W.P.”: her alphabetic message was answered with a kiss. Can you guess what “O.K.K.B.W.P.” meant? Well, it translated as “one kind kiss before we part.” Take that, Internet!

The 1820s and 1830s shared another linguistic fad with today: a liking for deliberate misspellings. Kewl, rite? 

Just like today, in an attempt at being funny and fashionable, young, educated people deliberately misspelt words and abbreviated them for slang. For example, “KG” stood for “know go,” the incorrect spelling of “no go.” The joke is lost on us today, but it was LOL-worthy in the 1800s!

So on March 23, 1839, an American newspaper called the Boston Morning Post published a satirical article on grammar.

A man named Charles Gordon Greene, who was also the editor of the newspaper, wrote that article. In that piece he came up with an abbreviation — O.K. and thus became the man who gave birth to this global word.

When “O.K.” appeared in that article, it was intended to be the shortening of “oll korrect,” the humorous misspelling of “all correct.

OK, it was humorous 182 years ago.

‘OK’ very slowly seeped into the American vernacular during 1839 and by the end of the year, it had shown up in various American newspapers. 

What’s most interesting is how OK did not fall out of fashion like most of the abbreviations of that time. Nobody uses K.G. (know go) or OW (oll wright) anymore, right? so, naturally the question that arises is…

How did OK become so famous?

Although OK became one of the more commonly used short forms at the time, it sure would have passed into oblivion if it had not been for America’s presidential election of 1840.

Now, while President Martin Van Buren wasn’t the origin of OK, as the movie suggested, the man did have a hand in popularizing it.

Martin Van Buren, the eighth President of the United States (1837-1841)

Van Buren had invented the slogan in his presidential campaign, “Vote for OK” in reference to both his hometown and his nickname, Old Kinderhook.

Their campaign was so memorable that it both popularized the word and hijacked the story of its origin: there are today still those who believe that “Old Kinderhook” is the original meaning of OK. 

There was another very important reason for the popularity of this word – the telegraph. 

The birth of ‘OK’ coincided with the invention of the telegraph, and as messages cost more if they contained more letters, early telegraph operators, as a standard practice, used the term ‘OK’ to confirm that a message had been received. 

Over time this word became so popular that it crossed all boundaries – of countries, languages, race or religion. And we don’t even realise how many times we use it in a day: it’s almost become a reflex. 

“Annie, are you ok? Are you ok, Annie? You’ve been hit by, you’ve been struck by a smooth criminal”

From Michael Jackson singing, “Annie, are you ok? Are you ok, Annie?” in his massive hit song Smooth Criminal, to being arguably the first word spoken when humans landed on the moon as Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin said “OK, engine stop”, once the lunar module was sitting on the moon — ‘OK’ has ruled the world for many, many years now. 

But today, there is an enemy at the gate! Another word, that may seem like it could compete with “OK” has crept into our common utterance –“like”. 

The battle of “OK” versus “like”

In the battle of “OK” versus “like”, OK comes way out on top. ‘Like’ is not as versatile as OK. All it does is just give a little bit of affirmation.

OK is a pair of initials with a much broader range and multitude of uses.

Above all, it’s an adjective when you say, ‘This is OK’. But it’s also a noun: ‘I gave this my OK.’ It’s also a verb: ‘I OK’d it.’ It’s also an adverb: ‘She did it OK.’ And it’s also an interjection: ‘OK then!’

This word can also express different meanings in different situations. 

It can be a simple gesture to acknowledge what another person says:

A: Should we order the salad?

B: Yeah!

A: OK!

In this example, one speaker uses OK to show that she acknowledges what the other speaker says. She also uses OK to show agreement.

However, we even use OK even when we do not agree with what is being said:

A: Did you know that humans used to ride Dinosaurs!

B: Are you sure? I don’t think humans were around back then.

A: No, no, humans are way older than dinosaurs!

B: Umm…OK then! 

Once again, OK serves the purpose of acknowledging what another person says but with the intention to disagree.

We even use OK to end a conversation:

A: So are you coming to the party today?

B: Yeah, I will be there.

A: OK. I will see you there. 

In this way, neither speaker is surprised when the conversation does end. So you see how versatile this two letter word is! 

OK, it has been great telling you all about the origins of this amazing little word but we have to go now. Until next time!

Meanwhile, write to us in the comments section and tell us how else do you use OK in your everyday conversations and what part of this origin story you found most fascinating!

About the Author


Generic placeholder image
Raza Mehdi

As a true introvert, Raza Mehdi shudders at the thought of having to expose very much of himself willingly and with malice-aforethought. Writing online since 2008; fiction, poetry, and articles on science, politics, humour and history. When he is not working, he is either trekking in mountains or sleeping. In his own words, the most apt description of him would be: Biryani on social media, daal chawal in person.

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Comments



Kanaram

July 29, 2021

I’m ok


Rifana

July 29, 2021

👍👍


Barsha priyadarshini Panda

July 29, 2021

I want to clear my basic in maths, science, etc


K. Sai Harshika bhavani

July 29, 2021

The most successful word in the world was ”Hello”


V.Tisha

July 29, 2021

Wow


Aditya Mahesh tonge

July 29, 2021

OK” is one of the most common words in the English language, but linguistically it’s a relative newbie. It’s just 150 years old, and traces its roots back to 19th century Boston. Rather than anyone purposefully inventing “OK,” it’s actually editorial joke that inadvertently went viral.


Shiuli singh

July 29, 2021

When anyone gives me work. Like my mummy then i say ok. I will do it


P. Pallavi

July 29, 2021

Nice ,good and excellent…


A.Anwitha

July 29, 2021

Byju’s.. You post interesting stories every week !! I love to read all your stories.. I get to know amazing stuff !! Thanks 😊 !!


Umaima Suzain.

July 29, 2021

I say the fullform of ‘OK’ as “Objection Killed”.
It was very interesting to know about Ok.👌


Gargi

July 29, 2021

Wow I very interesting
I don’t think about it that word OK has a history
Very nice
Because of Byju’s
Thank you Byju’s


shreshtha

July 29, 2021

OK! M DONE !!


Debprotim topno

July 29, 2021

Very nice


Mrityunjay Agrawal

July 29, 2021

Very good blog, with the history of ok


Ayesha khatoon

July 29, 2021

That was so interesting fact to note down and was helpful too


Athira

July 29, 2021

Ok


Shamiksha.S

July 29, 2021

Ok


Khushi

July 29, 2021

So cute story


Anukalp Chaubey

July 29, 2021

Its a very fabulous Story about the history of OK. I am very happy to read it and all my family and relatives liked it because i have sent them this story and they were telling its fabulous Anukalp.


G.Sai Rupesh Chowdhary

July 29, 2021

Super it’s correct


P. Kavin

July 29, 2021

It’s a very interesting story about ‘OK’
Now i am ok ok
Thank u for refreshing me


bhavya

July 29, 2021

The Choctaw were Native American people originally occupying what is now the Southeastern United States. The Choctaw word “okeh” sounds quite similar and means ‘so it is’. American president Woodrow Wilson reportedly thought it was the “correct” spelling of the word, and would OK documents with “okeh.”


Himika Bhakta

July 29, 2021

This story is better than OK ! 👍🏻


Abhinav.S.Murali

July 29, 2021

OK


Avinava Nandi

July 29, 2021

It’s really awesome. I also don’t know about this!!


Japjot Kaur

July 29, 2021

Byjus help me to understand the real world .How things are generated, invention, occurrence and so on .


K.NIDHISHRAJ

July 29, 2021

If there was no ok? There would have been no Ok in the article. If OK wasn’t introduced in newspapers what would have happened? If Charles Grodon Greene wasn’t born what would have been the case? Can you answer my question quick?


Ankita Jain

July 29, 2021

Ok great 😊


Sraddha

July 29, 2021

Very intresting 👌👍


Harsh

July 29, 2021

Very nice


Ananya Chowdhury

July 29, 2021

nice history , love it ❤❤


Jasmine Kaur

July 29, 2021

Nice 👌👌 now i know something new in my life ….. Plz hmesha aise hi stories send krte rho…. Yo 🤟🤟
I luv u byjus …. Byjus is the best


Yoshitha MK

July 29, 2021

Using “OK” for a conversation:
1. hi are you free?
2.yes
3. Ok call me now
Here I have used “ok” for ending my conversation, and at the story of “ok” my favourable part was “ok versus like”.
It was too interesting for me. 🤗

Thank you
by Yoshitha MK 🤗🤗


Surya

July 29, 2021

That’s interesting to know the origin of OK.


Sakshi Singh

July 29, 2021

Writing such a long article on OK is really a great thing… Hats off to the writer… 🤐


A .DWARAKA

July 29, 2021

I say ok to my sister every day
I don’t know how many OKs I have used
This article was awesome 👌👏


Aditya Sharma

July 29, 2021

Ok ,this story is very interesting


Pragya Singh

July 29, 2021

Very interesting ,loved it 💓 , thank you for this great story ✨ as I love to learn and know about ancient things . This was amazing ☺️


Arijeet Dutta

July 29, 2021

Wow! The origin of OK is amazing!😲😲! That’s ok.


Suranjan cv

July 29, 2021

Super means LIKE OK I like this byjus app super thankful for this


Sidhi Dalal

July 29, 2021

It was a great time to read about the story of the word ‘OK’.


Sejal

July 29, 2021

Hey!Are you guys OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOK😜


Divyam Yadav

July 29, 2021

“OK” is one of the most common words in the English language, but linguistically it’s a relative newbie. It’s just 150 years old, and traces its roots back to 19th century Boston. … OK first appeared as an abbreviation for “Oll Korrect,” printed in a satirical article about grammar


Mrittika Mondal

July 29, 2021

Amazing


Divyam Yadav

July 29, 2021

mid 19th century (originally US): probably an abbreviation of orl korrect, humorous form of all correct, popularized as a slogan during President Van Buren’s re-election campaign of 1840 in the US; his nickname Old Kinderhook (derived from his birthplace) provided the initials.


Aadhaar S Bandhavakar

July 29, 2021

Story was very nice


Lokesh kumar

July 29, 2021

Hi gyus. I am lokesh kumar. Ok vs like is very amazing explanation. Byjus is best learning platform 👌.


SHAMBHAVI Dubey

July 29, 2021

I like byju’s. Byju’s teachers are very good their understanding is nice. It is the best way to learn at home. Very Nice company and its app is nice.


S L Yuvanthi

July 29, 2021

Really!!A word OK has a history!!Hmm… Interesting


Shivanshu Tomar

July 29, 2021

Nice 👍


Shreyasi Naskar

July 30, 2021

It was a new thing which I didn’t known about OK.


Ayesha Khatoon byjus. Com

July 30, 2021

Good Byju’s


Harsh raj

July 30, 2021

Very nice story


Sathya sri

July 30, 2021

It was so nice 👍and I love to say ok 👍👍👍and byju’s is best leaning app and I love byju’s.


Atharv Gowardhan khedkar

July 30, 2021

Bye


Arpit verma

July 30, 2021

Ok


Ganesh jadhav

July 30, 2021

Very interesting


I am fine ☺

July 30, 2021

its amazing


Gauravi Ingole

July 30, 2021

Very nice explanation of from where did ok come from by Byjus which is best platform to learn something new andto Do fun.


Ch.Gracey

July 30, 2021

Wow😯😯😯for OK there is a history. Superb byju’s we are learning more in byju’s. Thanks so much 🙂🙂


SAIVI KAMREJA

July 30, 2021

Ok. I understood the word ok and from where it originated. Thx 🙂😊


Praveen Singh

July 30, 2021

This very good story of the ok.
Thanks


Jai goyal

July 30, 2021

Very nice 👍 work


Kristi Verma

July 30, 2021

Wow


Anamika

July 30, 2021

Byj’us Nice 🤗🤗


Anamika

July 30, 2021

🤗🤗


N Ponhareesh

July 30, 2021

LOL! IT’S OK


Amrutha

July 30, 2021

Wow


Samiya parween

July 30, 2021

Thank you byjus for giving me this story of word ok …..now I know the origin story of word ok …..


Aadi

July 30, 2021

That was great I didn’t know it


Jagriti Patel

July 30, 2021

OK” is one of the most common words in the English language, but linguistically it’s a relative newbie. It’s just 150 years old, and traces its roots back to 19th century Boston. Rather than anyone purposefully inventing “OK,” it’s actually editorial joke that inadvertently went viral.


Suchana panja

July 30, 2021

#”ok”—now I can say with a knowledge of okkkkk


Aswath Anil

July 30, 2021

WOW


Parth Awasthi

July 30, 2021

Are you oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooook


Gagandeep

July 30, 2021

Ok


Khushbu

July 30, 2021

👍👍


Anjali

July 30, 2021

It was very interesting to know about the History of world’s most spoken word “ok”.It is the most of the common word in the English language. I everyday use to say this words but I never knows the meaning of this word. All thanks to Byju’s.


YATHARTH KHAKRE

July 30, 2021

Very nice blog thanks


Sheetal Gupta

July 30, 2021

Ok ” sir”


Sivanarayan maniveli A

July 30, 2021

👍


J.Jai Siddharth

July 30, 2021

I love the story


Widhy

July 30, 2021

Thanks Byjus for this amazing article😍


ARAYNA TIGGA

July 30, 2021

Thanks Byjus . This story was really intresting, Amazing, And of course useful it’s really a good story I actually liked it very much. Awesome story.


ARAYNA TIGGA

July 30, 2021

I didn’t know that ‘OK’ also has a history, because of Byjus now I know and I liked it very much really interesting story.😊


Rudra Lakhani

July 30, 2021

Its amazing


Adish Dhangar

July 30, 2021

Ok is the one of best word ever


Anushka

July 30, 2021

Byju’s.. You post interesting stories every week !! I love to read all your stories.. I get to know amazing stuff !! Thanks 😊 !!


Shubhankari sinha

July 30, 2021

😊😊😊😊👌👌👌nice


Abhinav Chauhan

July 30, 2021

Ok👍👍👍👍


Pughazhini

July 30, 2021

I am OK with the story


Aryan

July 30, 2021

Nice!! Today I received unique knowledge about the word 🆗 .


Minza Iqbal

July 30, 2021

I used to think that ‘ok’ means ‘all correct’


Daya

July 30, 2021

Interesting story behind the work ‘ok’… Enjoyed reading it


Anubhav

July 30, 2021

OK !! I understood


Anubhav

July 30, 2021

OK 👌 is literally a historic word !!!!


Anandi paturkar

July 30, 2021

Great!!!! like this origin story “OK”


Sampurnna Dutta

July 30, 2021

BYJU’S , You post very interesting stories every week .
I love to read your all stories.
Thanks BYJU’S.


Aniket shekhar

July 30, 2021

I’m ok


Kritika mehandiratta

July 30, 2021

👍👍


Dipika Singh

July 30, 2021

Ok is most widely used word😂


Arunima jyoti

July 30, 2021

OK


Ananya

July 30, 2021

Nice


Greeshma GS

July 30, 2021

“the” is the most used english word


Adhyanth dutta

July 30, 2021

It’s ok! ok! ok! ok! ok! ok! ok! ok! ok! ok! ok! ok! ok! ok! ok ! ‘aaaa’🤗🤗


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