The expression “OK” is dear and familiar to us and is an integral part of everyday life. Good, Agree, All right, everything clear or done, all these words essentially mean OK. But as familiar as this term is in everyday life, it hides the secret of its origin.
The possible explanations are varied but one thing is certain that the word originated in the English-speaking world, to be more precise, from the USA. But from there it gets confusing. Many legends have grown up around the origin of the term. Before have decided to solve the puzzle, here is a small selection of the most prominent theories:
West African Origin Theory
It pertains to a reference that different West African languages use similar sound to express approval or simply to confirm what has been said by another person. OK, then came to the USA via the slave trade.
A US manufacturer and quality inspector from Germany named Otto Kaiser had each product labeled OK after a thorough inspection to refer to the product that that was up to the mark.
The French Origin
The term came from French into US English. Rum imported from Haiti was considered to be of particularly high quality. This rum was shipped from the port city of Les Cayes in southern Haiti. Les Cayes in French is translated to Aux Cayes, which sounds like ‘Ou kay’ and later became OK in the USA.
American Indians Theory
Indians were the first to use the phrase OK. In the language of the Choctaw, an Indian tribe from the southeastern United States, the term ‘oke’ or ‘okeh’, which means ‘it is’, has been around for a long time. Through a commercial relationship with the white settlers, it was finally adopted into English.
Trolling US journalists
Some of these stories sound adventurous and are questioned by most linguists. In the meantime, another explanation for the origin of OK has more or less become established.
The American newspaper Boston Morning Post published a text in which the phrase OK was written for the first time on 23rd March,1839. But it was just a joke or rather a verbal defamation of ‘all correct’. Such capricious abbreviations were popular among journalists at the time. Abbreviations such as ‘AR’ (all right) and ‘OR’ (oll rong, actually all wrong) appeared in the newspapers of the time. That was roughly similar to the popularity of chat shortcuts like LOL, OMG or ROFL today.
An election campaign slogan that made the word Immortal
Most of the abbreviations disappeared over the years but OK persisted, and there was a reason for that. The then US President Martin Van Buren started his campaign for re-election in the following year 1841. Van Buren came from the village of Kinderhook in New York. It was also called ‘Old Kinderhook’. His campaign managers recognized the opportunity and made ‘OK’ their campaign slogan. However, the campaign did little help as Van Buren lost the election.
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But OK had burned itself into the memory of US citizens. And just as the abbreviations LOL, OMG and ROFL are now widely used on the Internet, it was the ‘Telegram’ that helped OK to make its final breakthrough in the 1840s because it was easier to convey the message across by using OK instead of ‘everything is fine’ through Morse code.