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  • There's a two-letter word that we hear everywhere.

  • OK.

  • Okay.

  • OK, are you OK, Annie?

  • OK OK OK, OK ladies

  • OK might be the most recognizable word on the planet.

  • OK!

  • OK.

  • It's essential to how we communicate with each other, and even with our technology.

  • Alexa, turn off the living room light.

  • OK.

  • You probably use it every dayeven if you don't notice it.

  • But, what does OK actually mean?

  • And where did it come from?

  • Hm.

  • OK.

  • Okay then.

  • OK, thank you.

  • OK actually traces back to an 1830s fad of intentionally misspelling abbreviations.

  • Young "intellectual" types in Boston delighted those "in the know" with butchered coded

  • messages such as KC, or "knuff ced", KY, "know yuse," and OW, "oll wright."

  • Haha.

  • But thanks to a couple of lucky breaks, one abbreviation rose above the rest: OK, or "oll korrect."

  • In the early 1800s, "all correct" was a common phrase used to confirm that everything was in order.

  • Its abbreviated cousin started going mainstream on March 23, 1839, when OK was first published

  • in the Boston Morning Post.

  • Soon other papers picked up on the joke and spread it around the country, until OK was

  • something everyone knew about, not just a few Boston insiders.

  • And OK's newfound popularity even prompted a flailing US president from Kinderhook, New York,

  • to adopt it as a nickname during his 1840 reelection campaign.

  • Van Buren's supporters formed OK Clubs all over the country, and their message was pretty

  • clear: Old Kinderhook was "oll korrect."

  • The campaign was highly publicized and turned pretty nasty in the press.

  • His opponents ended up turning the abbreviation around on him, saying it stood for "Orful

  • Konspiracy" or "Orful Katastrophe"

  • Hah.

  • In the end, even a clever nickname didn't save Van Buren's presidency.

  • But it was a win for OK.

  • That 1840 presidential campaign firmly established OK in the American vernacular.

  • And while similar abbreviations fell out of fashion, OK made the crossover from slang

  • into legitimate, functional use thanks to one invention: the telegraph.

  • If we lower the bridge, the current flows to the sounder.

  • At the other end, the current energizes an electromagnet and this attracts the armature.

  • The armature clicks down against a screw and taps out a message.

  • The telegraph debuted in 1844, just five years after OK.

  • It transmitted short messages in the form of electric pulses, with combinations of dots

  • and dashes representing letters of the alphabet.

  • This was OK's moment to shine.

  • The two letters were easy to tap out and very unlikely to be confused with anything else.

  • It was quickly adopted as a standard acknowledgement of a transmission received, especially by

  • operators on the expanding US railroad.

  • This telegraphic manual from 1865 even goes as far as to say that "no message is ever

  • regarded as transmitted until the office receiving it gives OK."

  • OK had become serious business.

  • But there's another big reason the two letters stuck around, and it's not just because

  • they're easy to communicate.

  • It has to do with how OK looks.

  • Or more specifically, how the letter K looks and sounds.

  • It's really uncommon to start a word with the letter K in Englishit's ranked

  • around 22nd in the alphabet.

  • That rarity spurred a "Kraze for K" at the turn of the century in advertising and

  • print, where companies replaced hard Cs with Ks in order to Katch your eye.

  • The idea was that modifying a wordlike Klearflax Linen Rugs or this Kook-Rite Stove,

  • for examplewould draw more attention to it.

  • And that's still a visual strategy: We see K represented in modern corporate logos, like

  • Krispy-Kreme and Kool-Aid.

  • It's the K that makes it so memorable.

  • By the 1890s, OK's Bostonian origins were already mostly forgotten, and newspapers began

  • to debate its historyoften perpetuating myths in the process that some people still believe.

  • Like the claim that it comes from the Choctaw word 'okeh,' which means 'so it is.'

  • Choctaw gave us the word OK

  • OK's beginnings had become obscure but it didn't really matter anymorethe word

  • was embedded in our language.

  • Today, we use it as the ultimate "neutral affirmative."

  • OK then.

  • Okay then.

  • Learn to truly love yourself.

  • OK.

  • OK.

  • Get yourself up here!

  • OK!

  • I don't know what to say.

  • Say OK.

  • OK.

  • It's settled then!

  • Allan Metcalf wrote the definitive history of OK, and he explains that the word "affirms

  • without evaluating," meaning it doesn't convey any feelingsit just acknowledges

  • and accepts information.

  • If you "got home OK," it just means you were unharmed.

  • If your "food was OK," then it was acceptable.

  • And "OK" confirms a change of plans.

  • It's is sort of a reflex at this pointwe don't even keep track of how much we use it.

  • Which might be why OK was arguably the first word spoken when humans landed on the moon.

  • Not bad for a corny joke from the 1830s.

  • Alright guys, cut it out.

There's a two-letter word that we hear everywhere.

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B1 US Vox boston telegraph abbreviation transmitted letter

Why we say “OK”

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    Samuel posted on 2018/09/27
Video vocabulary