Etymology Essay

“OK” is a rather popular word: even people who do not speak English know and use it. It helps people to express a wide variety of feelings. However, there is one question that scholars struggle with: where does this word come from. It seems that this word has been around for centuries which is, in fact, the case since it emerged in the nineteenth century, but no one is sure of its origin. There are different approaches to etymology.

The only thing that can be said for sure is the first recorded year – 1839. This is the time when it first emerged. After several decades people tried to trace its lineage, but they failed to do so. The first theory that also happens to be the most accepted one is that “OK” is closely connected to Boston abbreviation fad (“OK” n.d.). There were people in Boston who would find amusement in bad spelling. Obviously, they there literate and never misspelled a word when this was important. However, just for fun, they used to imagine new ways to spell words and phrases and make abbreviations of them. For example, “NC” would stand for “enough said”. So, “enough said” is transformed into “nuff ced” and ultimately into NC. If this is true then “OK” is short for “all correct”: it can be transformed into “oll korrect” (Mencken 312). There is clearly logic here: it is not brilliant, but it works and it fits the situation. Obviously, today OK means a lot more, but it is still a sign of approval.

Here is another approach to the etymology. In 1840, there was a politician called Martin Van Buren. He was trying to become the President of the United States. However, his Dutch name could scare off the voters, so the slogan used his nickname “Old Kinderhook” – he was old at the time and he was originally from Kinderhook, a small village (“OK, adj., int.1, n.2, and adv.” n.d.). So, the slogan was “Vote for OK”. Unfortunately, he did not win, yet the word was so convenient that people were using it after the election as well (Kperogi 2015). This approach suggests that “OK” stands for “Old Kinderhook”. There is a story that might unite these two: the critics of Andrew Jackson who was the person promoting Van Buren claimed that Jackson was so illiterate that he would spell “all correct” as “oll korrect”.

There are also theories that speculate that the word’s origin is not English. It is suggests that the early American settlers interacted with the American Indians a lot. Clearly, they had to come to terms with each other which implies a lot of agreement on numerous things. The Indians were constantly saying “okeh” which in their language means “it is so” (Wilton 28). The early Americans liked this simple word so much that they started using it themselves. Linguistics supports this story: in Choctaw language “keh” means confirmation and “o-” is a prefix that indicates distinction. So, this literally means “it is so”.

There is another theory which traces the origin of the word to Africa. It is important to note that in any case the origin of “OK” can be traced to the beginning of the American history (Metcalf 36). There is an African word which is pronounced as “waw-kay”. This word means “yes, indeed”. It is important to point out that the core meaning of “OK” is similar to this phrase. All three stories put emphasis on the fundamental meaning of my name. It is hard to determine whether this is a unique coincidence between the languages or whether the talk of the slaves really influenced the talk of the slave owners.

Finally, it is important to point out that there are some false theories about the origin of “OK”. For example, many believe that OK should be associated with a phrase “och aye” which means “oh yes” in the Scottish language. There is a clear resemblance in terms of pronunciation as well as the meaning. However, there is little evidence that might ground it. This may simply be a coincidence. Some might suggest that it does not really matter. There is another story that has been told. According to it, “OK” related to a phrase “ola kala” which means “all good”. Clearly, there is an “o” next to “k” and there is a meaning that is similar to mine. However, this may be just a coincidence that cannot be explained: it just happened so that two words in Greek use similar first letters for a phrase that corresponds in meaning with OK.

So, as you may clearly see, the word in question has expanded its meaning since its emergence. Regardless of the true nature of its origin, it is used today for a number of purposes. Obviously, it was able to retain the original meaning; however, there were some changes made. It is clear whether this word will disappear in the distant future of not: it is possible that people will still be using it and it would take a considerable period of time for people to forget me. The important point is that it has become a part of many language all over the world.

Works Cited

Burridge, Kate, and Alexander Bergs. Understanding language change. London, Routledge, 2017.

Kperogi, Farooq A. Glocal English. New York, NY, Peter Lang, 2015.

Mencken, Henry Louis. The American language: an inquiry into the development of English in the United States. London, Forgotten Books, 2012.

Metcalf, Allan A. OK: the improbable story of Americas greatest word. Oxford, Oxford Univ. Press, 2012.

“OK.” Http://, 0ADAD, Accessed 11 Sept. 2017.

“OK, adj., int.1, n.2, and adv.” Oxford English Dictionary, 0ADAD, Accessed 11 Sept. 2017.

Wilton, David. Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009.

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