It’s all OK at the end of the day

Townsville Bulletin - - Inside Today - townsville­bul­letin. com. au

IT’s an ex­pres­sion we all use but where on earth did it come from? There are many claimants to the ex­pres­sion OK or okay as we some­times see it.

Some claim that it grew the Greek ex­pres­sion, ‘‘ ola kala’’ mean­ing ‘‘ it is good’’. The Scots claim that it grew from a mis­pro­nun­ci­a­tion of their ex­pres­sion, ‘‘ och aye’’ mean­ing ‘‘ oh yes’’. The French have claimed it de­rives from ‘‘ au quai’’, an ex­pres­sion used by French dock work­ers mean­ing ‘‘ to the quay’’ and associated with ‘‘ let’s go’’.

There is even the story of Obe­diah Kelly, a rail­way freight agent who al­legedly wrote O. Kelly or just O. K. to cer­tify that freight had been re­ceived or was ready to ship out.

I found no fewer than 30 sto­ries that claim to be the true ori­gin. Many are fan­ci­ful, some are sim­ply sto­ries too late in the game as the ex­pres­sion can be traced to use in ear­lier times. They are all a jolly good read!

In my lec­tur­ing days I loved to write OK ( Latin om­nis ko­r­recta mean­ing ‘‘ all cor­rect’’) on ex­cel­lent pa­pers.

True, it was used in a range of con­texts – the old global tele­graph sys­tem would trans­mit ‘‘ OK’’ for ‘‘ open key’’ in­di­cat­ing they were ready to re­ceive and trans­mit mes­sages. Tele­graph was not in­vented un­til 1844 so cedes to ear­lier ex­am­ples.

In WWI ca­su­alty re­ports of­ten hap­pily ended with ‘‘ OK’’.

Why hap­pily? It recorded the fact that there were ‘‘ 0 Kills’’ and no fa­tal­i­ties had been suf­fered.

A Ten­nessee Court Record from 1790 ap­proves a Bill of Sale of a ne­gro man who was de­clared ‘‘ OK’’.

This may link to the African Mandinke or Mandingo phrase ‘‘ o ke’’ mean­ing ‘‘ in good con­di­tion’’.

African Wolof and Bantu lan­guages also have the word ‘‘ waw-kay’’, pro­nounced ‘‘ wokay’’ and mean­ing ‘‘ yes’’ or an em­phatic ‘‘ cer­tainly’’. Some sug­gest that the OK on the Bill of Sale may have been shoddy hand­writ­ing and re­ally OR for Or­der Re­ceived.

The Choctaw In­dian word ‘‘ okeh’’ mean­ing ‘‘ right’’ is fairly widely sup­ported in the re­search. Their word was used in two senses; as a com­mence­ment state­ment: ‘‘ OK ( right), we are ready to leave’’; and ‘‘ The ma­te­ri­als are in OK ( right / proper) con­di­tion’’.

There was even a fad dur­ing the 1800s in which words were mis­spelled on pur­pose and re­lated to ini­tial­ism ( us­ing first let­ters of words as words).

‘‘ Oll kor­rect’’ ( all cor­rect) be­came ‘‘ OK’’; ‘‘ Nuff sed’’ ( enough said) be­came NS; ‘‘ Oll wright’’ ( all right) be­came OW and so on.

There are even sto­ries re­lat­ing to Andrew Jack­son and Martin Van Buren, two Amer­i­can Pres­i­dents but I have to fin­ish now.

Is that OK?

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