I wondered the other day where they word “okay” came from. Or the abbreviation “OK,” I didn’t know which came first. (I notice that some people, like my wife, prefer to write the abbreviation, while other people, like myself, write the word out.) I wondered how the word came to be. So I did a little digging, and this is what I found.

We must go deeper

As it turns out, there are numerous explanations for the word “okay” emerging into popular use in the middle of the 19th century. But the Oxford dictionary[1] seems to indicate that it originated from an abbreviation of the words “all correct.” It was considered humorous at the time to deliberately misspell things (let me know if this sounds familiar), and it was common to change “all correct” to “orl korrect,” so the abbreviation became “OK.”

It may have ended there — and if it had, “OK” probably wouldn’t be as prevalent as it is today — except for a presidential candidate. President Martin Van Buren, running for reelection, was nicknamed “Old Kinderhook,” after his hometown in the state of New York. His supporters called themselves the “OK Club,” which helped to popularize “OK” among the masses (but unfortunately, it did nothing for his reelection campaign).

I can haz etymology?

It fascinates me that a common and widely-used expression such as “OK” started out as a deliberately misspelled expression, and for the sole reason that people thought it was funny. Humor is all about subverting expectations — from wordplay to slapstick, both good jokes and bad take expectations and flip them in order to get a laugh.

i-can-has-cheezburger
Misspelled words are funny.

The origins of “OK” remind me that the more things change, the more they stay the same. We still do the same thing today. We still misspell words and think it’s hilarious. Deliberately misspelled words and poor grammar are no less common today. In fact, I’d argue that with the help of the Internet, it’s even more common.

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On the other hand, the Internet is also a friend to grammar nazis, so maybe it's a wash.

And just think, in the distant future, some curious mind could be browsing the ECHOnet looking for the etymology of “cheezburger.”

Husband. Daddy. Programmer. Artist. I’m not an expert, I just play one in real life.