February 01, 2015 00:28 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

  • NASA's Dawn spacecraft heading toward the dwarf planet Ceres.   (Image - NASA/JPL-Caltech)

    Video NASA Spacecraft, Dawn, Close to Reaching a 'Dwarf Planet'

    Dawn is set to reach the dwarf planet Ceres in March. Scientists will use the spacecraft to gather clues about whether the distant, ice-covered object may have once had conditions to support life as we know it. Dawn, which left Earth seven years ago, will also explore another small planet, Vesta. More

  • Students learning computer skills on a mobile bus in Nairobi, Kenya

    Video Mobile Computer Lab Helps Thousands in Nairobi Slum

    A non-profit group is working to give Kenya’s poorest citizens access to information and technology. The Craft Silicon Foundation provides people who live in Kawangware a computer lab and computer training classes on a mobile bus. The bus has 12 computers powered by the sun through solar panels. More

  • Audio Former Secretaries of State Discuss National Security

    Henry Kissinger, George Schultz and Madeleine Albright talked about Islamic militants, immigration and the crisis in Ukraine. Protesters interrupted the event and tried to arrest Kissinger. They accused him of wrongdoing in South America, Vietnam and other countries. | As It Is More

  • Patriots Football

    Audio The Epidemic of Cheating in Sports

    Throughout time, cheating in sports has caused debate and dispute. Athletes often do whatever it takes to win in competition. Some take drugs that are meant to improve their performance, such as steroids. These might make them run faster or hit a baseball harder. More

  • freedom house vid

    Video Freedom House: Democratic Ideals Threatened Around the World

    The rights group Freedom House has reported a general decline in political and civil rights around the world last year. The group said its measure of international freedom has dropped in each of the past nine years. It added that democratic ideals are now under the greatest threat in 25 years More

Featured Stories

  • Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, joins U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Gov. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., during a get out the vote rally.

    Audio Why Do So Few US Women Hold Top Jobs?

    A new study by the Pew Research Center found that the public says women are just as qualified as men to hold top positions in business and politics. But women are still not equally represented in those top jobs. Most Americans think they will see a woman president in their lifetimes. More

  • AFC Championship Football

    Superbowl Sunday: The Patriots, the Seahawks and Katy Perry, Too

    The National Football League championship game is hugely popular with sports fans and television advertisers. Tens of millions of people watch the game for the competitive play and for the funny commercials broadcast throughout. Many also enjoy the halftime show. This year Katy Perry will entertain. More

  • NYC subway art

    Video New York's 'Underground Museum' Pleases Passersby

    For the past thirty years, artists have been asked to create works of art for New York’s huge subway and train system. The works often relate to city life or to the neighborhood of a station. Some people call it New York’s “underground art museum," with over 250 pieces of original artwork. More

  • agridrone

    Video French Farmers Are Using Drones to Examine Their Crops

    It used to be mostly the military that used small, unpiloted aircraft, called “drones.” The little planes were very costly. But as they have dropped in price more people have begun to use them. Rescue workers and farmers are among the new users. The drones save money and time. More

  • Video Is There a Better Way to Track Passenger Planes?

    New technology could help to more closely follow passenger airplanes, and find them when they crash; international group to meet next month to discuss changes. Airline industry leaders and regulators want to improve airplane safety. They want better, more dependable tracking devices. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner blog
Confessions of an English Learner blog

 

 

 

Tell us About Our Programs