Friday, June 16, 2017


When I gave myself the OK to write about the word “OK,” I wasn’t OK that some may not be OK with that. Sure, it would be OK to read, but instead of thinking “that was OK,” they may think it was OK instead. Then I thought, OK, if it turns out OK, that’s OK with me, OK?
Well, that is a lot of “OK,” but it reflects the list of possible origins for this word. Most often an abbreviation for fanciful misspellings of “all correct,” an apparent fad in the United States of the 19th century, though “oll korrect,” or even “oll wright,” is a bit of a stretch, but “Old Kinderhook,” the nickname for President Martin Van Buuren, at least sounds plausible. The alternative spelling “okay” was itself another way of spelling “okeh,” the Choctaw Indian word for “it is so” – several West African languages have something similar. There are various explanations of how “OK” can be abbreviations of German, French, Dutch, Greek and Gaelic (“och aye”) words, among so many others – Puerto Rican rum can be “au quai,” for export from the docks, or an order could be from high command, or “Ober Kommando.”

I got the impression that, no matter how the prevalence of “OK” can be explained away, the fact that the “O” and the “K” are clear, unmistakeable sounds, and every language has both, the only issue is how you write it down: I always use capitals, but “O.K.,” “Ok,” “ok,” and “okay” are all perfectly fine in English, because there has never been a consensus. Meanwhile, the Finnish word “ookoo” is what the letters “O” and “K” sound like by themselves in Finnish, but it is pronounced “OK,” as in the English “OK” - the same goes for the Afrikaans “oukei,” the Maltese “oukej,” and “okey” and “okej” in most of Europe, when they are not writing “OK” themselves.
However, you can blame NASA for giving things the “A-OK.”
Is it OK that we have a word that can be used so easily? “OK” can be used without commitment, when you don’t want to say that something is good or bad. Likewise, you may want to say “OK” to confirm you have understood an order, a decision or a piece of information, but you may only want to give the impression that you have. “OK” can be used to create a distance between what you intend to mean, and what you want someone else to hear. Just like you may want to say “OK,” in a foreign country, you will get further if you have more words at your disposal.
Restricting your language? I’m not OK with that, but if you don’t lose what you want to say, that’s fine, OK?

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