April 18, 2015 23:34 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

  • World Bank President Jim Yong Kim is seen speaking at a news conference.

    Audio World Bank Head Sees Other Development Banks as Allies

    Slowing economic growth around the world is endangering the World Bank’s goal of ending extreme poverty by the year 2030. Mr. Kim said the goal remains within reach. But he thinks extreme poverty will disappear only if world leaders and financial and development agencies do their part. More

  • Children playing on the shores of Guanabara Bay

    Audio Brazil Working to Clean Dirty Olympic Bay

    Around the world, people are excited for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. The host city for the events is Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The city is known as Cidade Maravilhosa – the Marvelous City – because of its beautiful landscapes. But one body of water in Rio, Guanabara Bay, is not so marvelous. More

  • Video New Movie Shows an Unseen Underwater World

    Jean-Michael Cousteau and his team used an IMAX camera to produce a 40-minute documentary about the world’s oceans. The film shows how the smallest life in the sea is important to the survival of all life on the planet. There are also thousands, maybe millions of species not yet identified. More

  • Audio Early American Railroads Shape Modern Language

    This week, we look at some train and railroad expressions commonly used in American English. This is only part one. There are many idioms and expressions relating to trains. So ... all aboard! Make sure you have your ticket because this train is leaving the station! More

  • Women in Combat

    Video Women Seek to Join US Army Rangers

    Army expects nearly 20 women will begin the difficult training on Monday; it says they will have to meet the same standards as men to graduate from course. Opinion study of male troops finds many do not think women should be Rangers. The Army says those who graduate will be Rangers. More

Featured Stories

  • Audio Early American Railroads Shape Modern Language

    This week, we look at some train and railroad expressions commonly used in American English. This is only part one. There are many idioms and expressions relating to trains. So ... all aboard! Make sure you have your ticket because this train is leaving the station! More

  • Everyday Grammar - Gerunds and Infinitives

    Audio Everyday Grammar: Gerunds and Infinitives

    English learners have difficulty with gerunds and infinitives. A gerund is the –ing form of a verb that functions the same as a noun. For example, “Running is fun.” In this sentence, “running” is the gerund. It acts just like a noun. More

  • Autism book

    Video Mother, Son, Co-Write Children’s Book on Autism

    ‘If You Were Me’ tells the story of 18-year-old Burnie Rollinson’s story. He was diagnosed with Asperger's at age three. He has few friends but he enjoys a full and productive life. He and his mother, Anita Rollinson, created their book together. She wrote the words and Burnie drew the pictures. More

  • Video Benito Cereno by Herman Melville, Part Two

    Last week, we told how African slaves on a Spanish ship rebelled in seventeen ninety-nine. They killed most of the Spanish sailors. Only the captain, Benito Cereno and a few others survived. The story continues - what happened on Captain Cereno's ship? Read the second of three part More

  • Video Motor-Free Device Reduces Stress from Walking

    Devices that help people walk were once thought to be difficult, if not impossible, to design. Until recently, such a device required electricity from an external power supply. Now, American scientists have built a small, wearable addition to normal shoes. More

Practice Your Writing

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

 

 

 

Tell us About Our Programs