Tomorrow is a big day. "OK," the expression you use surely quite regularly in some form or another (maybe it's "kk," maybe it's "k," maybe it's "okaaaaaaay, fine") is having a birthday, and it's one that ranks up there with the members of the Cullen family, a triple-digit whammy. OK was born on March 23, 1839, when, as Allan Metcalf writes at Lingua Franca, it appeared "on Page 2 of the four-page Boston Morning Post, in a turgid paragraph of would-be humor." I suggest your first step in celebrating the day be to read that. As luck would have it, here is that paragraph:
The “Chairman of the Committee on Charity Lecture Bells,” is one of the deputation, and perhaps if he should return to Boston, via Providence, he of the Journal, and his train-band, would have the “contribution box,” et ceteras, o. k.—all correct—and cause the corks to fly, like sparks, upward.
The humor part may be hard to comprehend, but, you know, it was 174 years ago. Things have changed but OK has remained. And in the Merriam-Webster entry for the word, there it is, its birthdate and origin: "abbreviation of oll korrect, facetious alteration of all correct. First Known Use: 1839." OK as a noun made its way into the vernacular two years later, in 1841, and as a verb, it came to be in 1888. OK is also be an early example of a phrase going viral, with a related political campaign of its own. Metcalf explains, "Among other things, in 1840 President Martin Van Buren got the nickname “Old Kinderhook” (because his home town was Kinderhook, N.Y.), and OK Clubs were formed to support his reelection. (He lost to William Henry Harrison, who had the best slogan: “Log Cabin and Hard Cider.”)"
So, how are we celebrating? Maybe...
- Perusing Metcalf's book, OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word.
- Saying "OK, OK, OK.... okayyyy already!" whenever anyone tells us to do something.
- Googling "OK" to see how many results come up. There are a lot.
- Wondering, in the future, will we still say OK? And what does kk think about her aging cousin?
- Making a big cake shaped like the phrase out of oatmeal and kibble or, maybe, oranges and Krazy Glue. Whatever's around the house, you know.
- Reliving fond memories of working at OK! magazine, and, oh yes, remember that something-something OKCupid?
- Oklahoma: Is it the only state with an abbreviation that's also a functioning phrase? Discuss!
- Drinking a lot of coffee, which has nothing to do with OK, and probably going to brunch because, you know, it's the weekend. OK? OK.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.