We were looking at the origins of the ubiquitous ‘okay’ last week. Theories abound: -it was an abbreviation used by lumbermen who cut oak trees for furniture. The best quality oak was “Oak A”; ● it comes from a Choctaw Indian word spelled “Okeh”, meaning “it is”; ● it represented the initials of a railroad clerk, Obadiah Kelly, who stamped OK on parcels for shipment; ● it originates from the practice of designating bananas without flaws as au quai – that is, ready to go to the quay for loading.
But the largest following among word authorities is that the genesis of OK can be found in the name of the O.K. Democratic Club, a group that during the presidential campaign of 1840 used the symbol O.K. as its rallying slogan on behalf of Martin Van Buren, who had adopted the nickname “Old Kinderhook” to refer to his birthplace near Albany.
Some OK-related interesting popcultural references: ● I’m OK, You’re OK by Thomas Anthony Harris is one of the best selling self-help books ever published, being a practical guide to Transactional Analysis as a method for solving problems in life. ● Rodgers and Hammerstein declared Oklahoma in song to be OK! in their eponymous 1943 musical Oklahoma! ● Trivia alert – there is only one town named Okay in all of the USA and that’s in Oklahoma. Cool, isn’t it? ● Then there’s also the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona – but in this case, ‘OK’ stands for Old Kindersley. The infamous 1881 shootout that supposedly took place there actually occurred a little further down the road.
Internationally, OK has travelled remarkably well on the wings of American popular culture – and found a niche in the digital era, fitting easily into 140-character Twitter and text messages. Using Google Glass eyewear, in fact, calls for a voice command that begins: “OK, Google Glass”, just as you need to say “Okay, Google” to begin a voice search.
“It’s a nice, short abbreviation and it fits abbreviations in other languages”, says international OK expert Metcalf. “It’s distinctive, yet easily pronounced and readily understood”.
It looks like it’s here to stay, and we’re okay with that.