OK: 175 years old and going strong

Most Recognized Word on the Planet:  OK or O.K. or Okay

March 23, 2014.  This week is the 175th anniversary of one of the great moments in the English Language:  the old Boston Post newspaper printing the phrase ‘oll korrect’, in a bit of humorous wordplay back in 1839.

Earlier this afternoon, we performed a simple Google search for the word; the search returned some 1,200,000,000 references to OK.   Not bad for a word no one is quite sure how to spell.

OK is now widely heard wherever one sets foot on the planet.

U.S. President Martin Van Buren (A.D. 1837–1841) was born in Old Kinderhook, New York. His nickname, Old Kinderhook, was incorporated into his re-election campaign slogan in 1840 (“Old Kinderhook is O.K.”).  O.K. Democratic Clubs sprung up around the young nation. Van Buren was a founding member of the Democratic Party. (He was overwhelmingly defeated by the Whigs in his re-election attempt.)

Alternative derivations, since disproven, suggested that OK was from the Greek phrase ola kala for ‘all is well’ used in the shipping industry. Another, actually favored by president Woodrow Wilson, was that OK was derived from the Native American language of the Choctaw ‘okeh’.

However, what is well-documented is that the U.S. Presidential Election of 1840 catalyzed OK’s already growing usage and subsequent global expansion during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  After World War II, US hegemony cemented its global propagation.

As English became the world’s first, true global language with some 1.83 billion speakers, dominance of the software of the Microsoft Corporation further embedded it everyday use on the Internet.  Some 80% of its computer programs that are ‘localized’ into native languages use the English word OK to assert completion or assent.

For good measure, the successful completion of a server response on the World Wide Web (of which there are billions every second) is defined as OK.

Now with the proliferation of social media, the word itself has further evolved with its shortening to the single letter, k.


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