Quickly now – what is a common everyday word denoting approval, acceptance, agreement, assent, or acknowledgment? That would be ‘okay’, or OK. We use it all the time, and in addition to the above, it also has other uses. This extract comes from our ever-obliging Wikipedia:
As an adjective, “OK” means “adequate”, “acceptable” (“this is OK to send out”), “mediocre” often in contrast to “good” (“the food was OK”); it also functions as an adverb in this sense. As an interjection, it can denote compliance (“OK, I will do that”), or agreement (“OK, that’s good”). As a verb and noun it means “assent” (“The boss okayed the purchase”, and, “The boss gave his OK to the purchase”). As a versatile discourse marker (or back-channelling item), it can also be used with appropriate voice tone to show doubt or to seek confirmation (“OK?” or “Is that OK?”). Not bad for a two-syllable word, eh?
Earlier this year – March, to be precise – marked 175 years since OK – or, as some prefer, okay – first appeared in print, on page two of The Boston Morning Post, then one of the most popular newspapers in the United States.
“I think OK should be celebrated with parades and speeches”, says Allan Metcalf, an English professor in Illinois who is the world’s leading authority on the history and meaning of OK (such is the word’s appeal that we even have a specialist!). He adds: “But for now, whatever you do [to mark the anniversary], it’s OK”. Right.
In his 2001 book, OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word, Metcalf calls OK “the most frequently spoken (or typed) word on the planet” – used more often than “Coke” or an infant’s “ma”, a revelation that ought to have us view the word with a new respect.
Etymologically, it has no direct relationship with Latin or Greek or any other ancient tongue. Oxford Dictionaries, on its website, rejects speculation that OK is derived from the Scottish expression och aye, the Greek ola kala (it’s good) or the French aux Cayes, which refers to a port in Haiti.
Rather, it favours a theory – shared by Metcalf – that it’s an abbreviation of orl korrekt, a derivative of “all correct” from the 1830s when jokey misspellings were all the rage, like internet memes are today. More next week – OK?