Among English speakers, at least, OK's versatility is astounding. It is put to work an adjective ("The council deemed the project OK"), a noun ("The council gave its OK to the project"), a verb ("The council OK'd the project"), occasionally as an adverb ("The council took the criticism OK"), and most frequently as a throat clearing interjection ("The council member began the discussion with 'OK, let's talk about the project'"). Depending upon tone and context OK can convey a positive or neutral assessment. Partnered with a minimizer as such "just" or "only" or "merely" it becomes negative.
|"Old Kinderhook" Martin Van Buren|
(Image courtesy of the White House)
Metcalf says that OK almost certainly originated in a series of jokey articles about an "Anti-Bell-Ringing Society" published in the Boston Morning Post in 1839. Employing a style of humor that is complicated and unfunny to us today, the articles deliberately misspell the abbreviation for "all correct" as "O.K." supposedly for "oll korrect." The Boston paper was following a fad for abbreviations. "O.W". for "oll wright" was already in use.
The O.K. joke was picked up by other newspapers around the country and incorporated into the 1840 presidential campaign where it received a variety of new meanings including "Old Klay" for Whig Senator Henry Clay and "Old Kinderhook" for President Martin Van Buren. So called OK Clubs were set up in New York City in support of the Democrat Van Buren whose Hudson River Valley hometown was Kinderhook.
|O.K. Corral, Tombstone, Arizona Territory, 1882.|
|A novel that makes unusually|
frequent use of OK.
By the early twentieth century, OK had lost its positive connotations and was mainly known by its neutral sense. This led to the development of cheerier variations such as "okey-dokey." Also by the twentieth century OK began to show up in literature. It appears, for example, at least occasionally in the works of Sinclair Lewis, Ring Lardner,and William Faulkner.
According to Metcalf, the variant "A-OK" was introduced by spokesmen for the U.S. space program at the time of Alan Shepard's flight into space in 1961. By some measurements OK was the first word spoken on the moon. Transcripts of conversations reveal that astronaut Buzz Aldrin said "OK. Engine stop" just as the lunar module fully touched down on the moon's surface in 1969.
The use of OK to mean a kind of tolerant acceptance began with Thomas A Harris' pop psychology classic I'm OK, You're OK, first published in 1967 and a bestseller in the early 1970s."There's a lot of room for imperfection in OK while still being on the right side," Metcalf writes in regard to the flexibility and vagueness of OK making it the perfect word for Harris' positive yet non-judgmental message.
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