By Donna A. Leahey
“OK” is one of my verbal tics. I use it constantly. In speaking, in writing… I pepper “OK” over everything I say.
A state of being, “I’m OK.”
Generic beginning of a sentence, “Ok, guys, let’s get started.”
Just a noise I’m making while I’m trying to think, “What’s going here, hold on, OK OK OK OK…”
An angry exclamation, “OK, enough!”
Soothing, “It’ll all be OK.”
Mark of approval, “Yeah, that’s OK.”
I could go on, but I think we’re all OK with what I mean.
It’s an interesting little word or abbreviation. We’re not entirely sure where it even came from. If you go look it up, you’ll find two main stories. The first is that around 1840 there was a trend toward deliberate misspelling and that OK is an abbreviation for “oll korrect.” The second is that Martin van Buren, then running for president against Alexander Hamilton, was known by a number of nicknames, including “Old Kinderhook.” His followers formed The O.K. club. According to a Mental Floss article, “OK” became “the “misunderestimated,” “refudiated,” and “binders full of women” of its day.” Mental floss goes on to suggest that when the telegraph was invented, OK became adopted as a quick and easy way to confirm receipt of a message. That cemented its place in our language.
I’m not here today, however, to talk about the origins of OK. I’m hear to talk about the right way to write it. You may have already noticed I have my favorite: OK. However, some people prefer O.K., others go with Ok, and some bizarrely insist on okay. As far as I’m concerned, the only time okay is correct is when you’re talking about the small town of Okay, Oklahoma.
Why am I so anti-okay? Well, whichever origin of OK you prefer, it was never a word. Whether it’s “oll korrect” or “Old Kinderhook,” it’s an abbreviation. OK is not short for okay.
I’m no expert, though. What do the people who know what they’re talking about say? According to Daily Writing Tips, The Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, and The Australian Concise Oxford all show OK as the preferred spelling, though they do list okay as an alternative. The Chicago Manual of Style doesn’t directly address it, but does use OK in several examples. And finally, my AP Manual of Style prefers OK and says in abundantly clear terms, “Do not use okay.” I neither confirm nor deny that I chose the AP as my preferred stylebook for this exact entry.
A new critique partner has recently been correcting (korrecting?) all my uses of OK to okay. I haven’t had the heart to tell that person that I will never make that change. What I will do is remove a lot of the OK’s entirely. Boy, do I use it too much!