Sunday marks the 175th birthday of one of the most used four-letter words in the world.
No, not that one.
Okay - or as some prefer to say, OK - first appeared in print, on page two of The Boston Morning Post in 1839.
“I think OK should be celebrated with parades and speeches,” Allan Metcalf, an English professor in Illinois who is the world’s leading authority on the history and meaning of OK, told Agence France-Presse.
“But for now, whatever you do (to mark the anniversary), it’s OK.” In his 2001 book, “OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word,” Metcalf calls OK “the most frequently spoken (or typed) word on the planet”—used more often than “Coke” or an infant’s “ma.” Concise and utilitarian, it’s quintessentially American in its simplicity.
The often-used word has no direct relationship with Latin or Greek or any other ancient tongue.
Metcalf believes the OK is an abbreviation of “orl korrekt,” a derivative of “all correct” from the 1830s when jokey misspellings were all the rage, like Internet memes are today.
Credit for finding its first use in print goes to Allen Walker Read, a Columbia University professor who died in 2002 after a lifetime interest in OK and another widely used word with four letters that starts with the letter F.
It appeared in the Post in the context of an article concerning the ironically named Anti-Bell Ringing Society, founded in 1838 to oppose a municipal law in Boston prohibiting the ringing of dinner bells.
Society members were en route to New York, it reported, adding cryptically that if they should transit Rhode Island en route home, the newspaper editor in the New England state might well “have the ‘contribution box,’ et ceteras, OK—all correct—and cause the corks to fly, like sparks, upward.”