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  • Good morning John. OK.

  • That's a weird word.

  • By which I mean, "OK."

  • "OK" means like fine, good, satisfactory, approved.

  • None of those words even have K's in them!

  • There aren't any words that are just capital letters.

  • This isn't normal!

  • And yet, "OK" is possibly the most spoken word on the planet.

  • Not because we say it a lot in the US, which we do,

  • but also because we say it a lot everywhere.

  • So many other languages have been like,

  • "Yeah, actually, that one's good. We'll take that."

  • So from Mandarin to Hebrew to Flemish to Russian to Indian to Portuguese,

  • "OK" is "OK"!

  • It's a common, affirmative word.

  • What does "OK" even mean?

  • It's like you want to approve of something, but not a lot.

  • The way we have a word for "good" without all the GOOD tied up in it.

  • Like if I fall down, you say, "Are you OK?"

  • All you're really asking is, "Is there something wrong?"

  • It's like an acceptance without any values or perspective or opinions laid on top of it.

  • And I want that! I can just be OK, and that's OK!

  • But where did it actually come from, though?

  • Allow me to introduce you to the only Wikipedia page that is a list of potential etymologies for a word.

  • And it's very long!

  • Maybe it comes from "och aye". Like, Scottish. Oh yes.

  • Or from the Greek phrase, "ola kala," meaning "all good." Maybe!

  • But etymologists and historians have settled on three prime theories.

  • We'll get to the most settled-upon one last, but let's start with a West African origin.

  • Thus brought to the US by slaves.

  • A 1784 verified use of the word "K," rather than "OK,"

  • is a transcription of something a slave said in North Carolina.

  • And this may come from a common West African phrase "o ke," or "waw-kay," depending on the language,

  • that's basically an affirmative or a backchannel.

  • A backchannel is what linguists call that thing that you do where you make a noise or you say a phrase or a word

  • just to let somebody know that you understood what they said.

  • And among the many uses for the word "OK" remains backchanneling.

  • Like you're on the phone and you're like, "OK, uh-huh, yup, mhm, OK," - Like that!

  • Second, the Choctaw word "okeh", which maybe was also somewhat similar and other Native American languages,

  • and from what I can tell this is not particularly easy to translate,

  • but probably it means something to the effect of "it is so,"

  • and is also apparently sometimes used as a backchannel, weirdly enough.

  • The definite thing that we do know is when it entered into the popular lexicon of average Americans as the letter O and the letter K:

  • In the late 1830s, there was this weird fad for comically misspelling things in newspapers --

  • I don't know...

  • -- and then you would take those common misspellings and create acronyms from them.

  • Like another example of a similar word was "OW", which was for "oll wright".

  • Later, they had "oll korrect" - "OK."

  • Ugh!

  • Now this, like all of the other weird comical misspelling acronyms, would have been completely forgotten

  • if not for Martin Van Buren.

  • The democratic party decided to take this weird "OK" meme and apply it to Martin Van Buren,

  • whose name sounded too Dutch, I guess?

  • But he was from Kinderhook, New York and they called him "Ole Kinderhook",

  • but that probably also wouldn't have stuck around if people hadn't been looking for ways to save characters on telegrams because you payed by the letter.

  • And then "OK" continued to trundle down the decades until we got to where we are now.

  • For me, the amazing thing about this word is how normal and everyday it is,

  • despite the fact that it is very weird and unusual and we never noticed that.

  • And it sort of exists in the background as part of the fabric of culture,

  • not as something that we immediately identify as something that we're confused and amazed by.

  • But it is confusing and amazing,

  • and I guess that's OK.

  • John, I'll see you on Tuesday.

Good morning John. OK.

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B1 US weird letter affirmative phrase van settled

The Most Popular Word in the World

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    Samuel posted on 2018/03/26
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