September 30, 2014 21:54 UTC

Words and Their Stories

Words and Their Stories: Where Did 'OK' Come From?

A look at what may be the most commonly used word in the world.

Multimedia

Play or download an MP3 of this story

Now, the VOA Special English program WORDS AND THEIR STORIES.

Millions of people all over the world use the word OK. In fact, some people say the word is used more often than any other word in the world. OK means all right or acceptable. It expresses agreement or approval. You might ask your brother, "Is it okay if I borrow your car?” Or if someone asks you to do something, you might say, “Okay, I will.” Still, language experts do not agree about where the word came from.

Some people say it came from the Native American Indian tribe known as the Choctaw. The Choctaw word okeh means the same as the American word okay. Experts say early explorers in the American West spoke the Choctaw language in the nineteenth century. The language spread across the country.

But many people dispute this. Language expert Allen Walker Read wrote about the word OK in reports published in the nineteen sixties. He said the word began being used in the eighteen thirties. It was a short way of writing a different spelling of the words “all correct.” Some foreign-born people wrote “all correct” as “o-l-l k-o-r-r-e-c-t,” and used the letters O.K. Other people say a railroad worker named Obadiah Kelly invented the word long ago. They said he put the first letters of his names -- O and K -- on each object people gave him to send on the train.

Still others say a political organization invented the word. The organization supported Martin Van Buren for president in eighteen forty. They called their group, the O.K. Club. The letters were taken from the name of the town where Martin Van Buren was born — Old Kinderhook, New York.

Not everyone agrees with this explanation, either. But experts do agree that the word is purely American. And it has spread to almost every country on Earth. 

Then there is the expression A-OK. This means everything is fine. A-OK is a space-age expression. It was used in nineteen sixty-one during the flight of astronaut Alan Shepard. He was the first American to be launched into space. His flight ended when his spacecraft landed in the ocean, as planned. Shepard reported: "Everything is A-OK.”

However, some experts say the expression did not begin with the space age. One story says it was first used during the early days of the telephone to tell an operator that a message had been received. 

There are also funny ways to say okay. Some people say okey-dokey or okey-doke. These expressions were first used in the nineteen thirties. Today, a character on the American television series, “The Simpsons,” says it another way. He says okely-dokely.

(MUSIC)

This program was written by Shelley Gollust. I'm Faith Lapidus. You can find more WORDS AND THEIR STORIES at our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Learn with The News

  • Afghan National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar (R) and US Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham (L) sign documents as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (2R) and Afghanistan's new Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah (C)  look on at the Presidential Palace in

    Audio US Signs Security Agreement with Afghanistan

    US officials are calling the agreement, “an important step in strengthening the strategic partnership between the two countries.” The signing comes just three months before U.S. and NATO forces are set to officially end military operations in the country. More

  • Carter Elections

    Photogallery Former US President Jimmy Carter Turns 90

    He won the Nobel Peace Prize and served as Georgia’s governor and as a Navy officer. Former peanut farmer, former nuclear engineer now works as a human rights activist. Liked and disliked around the world. He has written 26 books and is writing more. | As It Is More

  • Mercedes Garcia of El Salvador fills in the application for her new ?green card? while waiting in a predawn line outside the Immigration and Naturalization Service office on Wednesday, March 20, 1996 in Los Angeles. Wednesday was the deadline to apply for

    Audio US 'Green Card' Lottery Registration Begins

    The US government’s Diversity Immigrant Visa Program makes 50,000 visas available every year. The program is designed for people from countries that have “historically low rates of immigration to the United States.” | As It Is More

  • Protesters block a street near government headquarters in Hong Kong September 30, 2014. Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters extended a blockade of Hong Kong streets on Tuesday, stockpiling supplies and erecting makeshift barricades ahead of what

    Video Hong Kong Protesters, Officials Dig In

    The Occupy Central protest group has said it will announce plans for the group’s next action on Wednesday if Hong Kong’s leader does not resign by October 1st. It also said the official, Leung Chun-ying, must meet demands for fair elections by that day. More

  • UN General Assembly Vietnam

    Audio Vietnam Calling for End to US Arms Ban

    Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh spoke last week in New York City during his visit to the United Nations General Assembly. | As It Is More

Featured Stories

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner BlogConfessions of an English Learner Blog

Tell us About Our Programs