Origins of Common Words - OK or Okay

About the history, origins, and definitions of the common word OK.


OK Theories about the origin of this term have bounced back and forth from Andrew Jackson to the Choctaw Indians, from Martin Van Buren to Old Keokuk, an Indian chief. Jackson, not the most literate of our presidents, was reported to have initialed OK on legal papers under the impression that "all correct" was spelled "oll korrect." But the vagaries of Tennessee pronunciation aside, the fact remains that no legal papers bearing such notation in Jackson's handwriting have ever been uncovered, in Tennessee or anywhere else. Then perhaps (groped the etymologists) in the Choctaw tribe phrase okeh--"it is so"--lies the true origin of the term; or alternatively (Indians are always a good bet) perhaps in the initials of Old Keokuk, by which he is said to have signed treaties (none of which has ever surfaced either). Obviously the least elusive of the possibilities lay in "O.K." as referring back to "the O.K. Club," a Democratic organization formed to support Martin Van Buren's candidacy for a second term as president, and arrived at from the initials of his native hometown of Old Kinderhook, N.Y. By what paths OK acquired its present meaning remains a mystery, but H. L. Mencken's observation that it is "without question the most successful of all Americanisms" is surely true.

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