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March 23, 1839: OK enters national vernacular
Posted on Friday March 23, 2018 - This Day in World History
On this day in 1839, the initials âO.K.â are first published in The Boston Morning Post. Meant as an abbreviation for âoll korrect,â a popular slang misspelling of âall correctâ at the time, OK steadily made its way into the everyday speech of Americans.
During the late 1830s, it was a favorite practice among younger, educated circles to misspell words intentionally, then abbreviate them and use them as slang when talking to one another. Just as teenagers today have their own slang based on distortions of common words, such as âkewlâ for âcoolâ or âDZâ for âthese,â the âin crowdâ of the 1830s had a whole host of slang terms they abbreviated. Popular abbreviations included âKYâ for âNo useâ (âknow yuseâ), âKGâ for âNo goâ (âKnow goâ), and âOWâ for all right (âoll wrightâ).
Of all the abbreviations used during that time, OK was propelled into the limelight when it was printed in the Boston Morning Post as part of a joke. Its popularity exploded when it was picked up by contemporary politicians. When the incumbent president Martin Van Buren was up for reelection, his Democratic supporters organized a band of thugs to influence voters. This group was formally called the âO.K. Club,â which referred both to Van Burenâs nickname âOld Kinderhookâ (based on his hometown of Kinderhook, New York), and to the term recently made popular in the papers. At the same time, the opposing Whig Party made use of âOKâ to denigrate Van Burenâs political mentor Andrew Jackson. According to the Whigs, Jackson invented the abbreviation âOKâ to cover up his own misspelling of âall correct.â
The man responsible for unraveling the mystery behind âOKâ was an American linguist named Allen Walker Read. An English professor at Columbia University, Read dispelled a host of erroneous theories on the origins of âOK,â ranging from the name of a popular Army biscuit (Orrin Kendall) to the name of a Haitian port famed for its rum (Aux Cayes) to the signature of a Choctaw chief named Old Keokuk. Whatever its origins, âOKâ has become one of the most ubiquitous terms in the world, and certainly one of Americaâs greatest lingual exports.