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Hilarious history behind the word 'OK' and how it became one of the most used words ever

What started as a silly joke in the Boston Morning Post turned out to be one of the most commonly used words in the English language.

Hilarious history behind the word 'OK' and how it became one of the most used words ever
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Miguel Á. Padriñán

If you think the current generation has quirky slang words and abbreviations for texting, you need to turn the pages of history. Much like today, people in the late 1800s had a love for abbreviations. One trend that really caught on—and even became a common practice worldwide—was using the initials "O.K." The origin of the word traces back to 1839 when the Boston Morning Post first published "O.K." as part of a joke, per History.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Cottonbro CG Studio
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Cottonbro CG Studio

It turns out that OK was the short form of "Oll Korrect," a slang term that came out of the misspelling "all correct." Just like how younger generations today create what will. ecome maisntream language trends, OK become common youth slang in the late 1830s before becoming a unvierdal phrase. Similar vernacular innovations include KY for "No use," which was morphed to "Know Yuse," KG for "No go," (Know go) and OW for "All right," (oll wright). In an attempt to take a sarcastic jab at Providence newspaper, The Boston Morning Post used the initials next to the phrase "all correct" in one of its throwaway columns. The term then gradually gained momentum and became an inevitable part of the American vernacular.

Image Source: circa 1840: Martin Van Buren (1782 - 1862), eighth president of the United States of America. (Photo by Stock Montage/Stock Montage/Getty Images)
Image Source: circa 1840: Martin Van Buren (1782 - 1862), eighth president of the United States of America. (Photo by Stock Montage/Stock Montage/Getty Images)

However, the true boom of "O.K." happened when American politicians picked up the initials as part of their political campaigns. When President Martin Van Burren, who was then holding office, had to face an election, his supporters came up with a way to garner more votes. They formed the "O.K. Club," which attributed to Van Burren's nickname "Old Kinderhook," - a name derived from his hometown, Kinderhook, in New York. However, the club also harnessed the popularity of the "O.K." term used in several newspapers at that time. On the other hand, the opposing party, the Whig Party leveraged "O.K." as a means to derate Van Buren's mentor, Andrew Jackson, saying that Jackson invented the term so that his misspelling of "all correct" would be ignored. Though Van Buren's supporters' efforts to influence voters failed, the initials "O.K." gained widespread popularity amid these political tactics. In a few years, many were using it in their everyday speech.

American linguist Allen Walker Read, an English professor at Columbia University, was a great contributor to uncovering the true origins of "O.K." The professor had to disprove several other theories behind the genesis of "O.K." such as the name of a popular Army biscuit (Orrin Kendall), the name of a Haitian port known for its rum (Aux Cayes) or the signature of a Native American group Choctaw's chief whose name was Old Keokuk. In the 1960s, Read traced back the term's origin to the popular newspaper quip and unraveled the mystery behind it. 

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