Dictionary.com Word FAQs

What is the etymology of OK?

OK (or ok, o.k., O.K.) was once thought to be an abbreviation for Old Kinderhook, President Martin van Buren's nickname based on his birthplace of Kinderhook, New York, which became a rallying cry for him during his re-election campaign of 1840. However, the distinguished linguist Allen Walker Read, who did extensive research on this single word, clarified that OK first appeared as a jocular alteration of the initial letters of 'all correct' (i.e., orl (or oll) korrect) in 1839. President van Buren's use of OK was one in several steps toward making this an extremely popular word, the next being the naming of the O.K. Club, a Democratic club in New York City. The form okeh, representing its pronunciation, appeared in 1919, followed by okay in 1929. The origin of OK, which H.L. Mencken deemed "the most successful of Americanisms" has probably been more discussed than any other in American English, which prompted Dr. Read to research it and publish a series of articles in the journal American Speech (Durham, NC: Duke University Press) in 1963 and 1964. Cecil Adams, author of The Straight Dope series of books (New York: Ballantine), compiled a list of eight etymological theories that came about on behalf of OK, but there are dozens more.

Copyright © 2015 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
About Term Privacy Careers Apps Feedback