Origin of "OK"

I used to work for the Minnesota Historical Society. The expression is found in a transcript from a court martial held at Fort Snelling in (as I recall) 1832.

I’m not disputing the origin given in TSD, but it would seem “OK” was in common use earlier than suggested.


LINK TO COLUMN: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/503/what-does-ok-stand-for

My Ohio almanac lists an origin, be right back.

Each County has facts, and under Champaign County is;

In 1840, when William Henry Harrison, campaigning for President, came to Urbana, a sign reading “The People is Oll Korrect” appeared in the procession.

The opposition made use of this expression from which “O.K.” originated. Urbana was latter called itself the " O.K. City".

Hope that helps.

Please make a copy and put it, or a link, here. The earliest known instance is from 1839, apart from an ambiguous diary entry from 1815, so if it truly is from 1832, and is clearly “OK” in the sense of “all right”, it’s important.

Link to the January 1, 1985 column in question: What does “OK” stand for?

I just read a (not very well-written) book about this very subject, for those of you who want to order it: http://www.amazon.com/OK-Improbable-Story-Americas-Greatest/dp/0199892539/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1331238897&sr=1-1

There are three cases well known to the people working on the etymology of “O.K.” where it was once claimed that the word appears in a handwritten record prior to 1839. After closer examination of these three documents, it appears that in two cases it was simply a matter of mistaking a badly written word for “O.K.” In the third, it appears that the “ok” is the beginning of some word that the writer didn’t finish. “O.K.” wouldn’t make any sense in that place in that third document. I suspect that the document that you’re talking about is another case like this. There are at least two SDMB members who are frequent posters to the American Dialect Society mailing list, which is the closest thing to an official place for the discussion of the etymologies of American English words. These two members are samclem and Tammi Terrell. Get hold of them and ask them to pass a photographic reproduction of this document you’re talking about to the ADS mailing list. The ADS people would doubtlessly love to look at the document to see how convincing it is.

If** terentii** can’t, perhaps someone at the Minnesota Historical Society can give us further help this. (I’ve just written staffers at the Historical Society’s reference library, though I may simply be duplicating something Wendall Wagner has already thought to do.)

Interestingly, another poster who used to work with the Historical Society made the same observation in 2007.

I had forgotten about that thread in 2007. I haven’t written the Minnesota Historical Society. Boy, I’m so tired of people who post to the SDMB with really interesting tidbits which might conceivably bear on established theories, but they then drop out of the discussion because they think that their time is too valuable to post more than once, whereas we’re obviously their servants who should do the hard work of research. To the former employees of the Minnesota Historical Society who started this thread and that thread in 2007, give us something that allows us to check this claim of the appearance of “O.K.” in 1832 in the records.

Seems our great, great, grandparents were ‘hip’ way before any of us with all of our internet & texting abbreviations that are popular today (FWIW, OMG, LOL). Cool article ‘uncle’ Cecil - sorry I missed it the first time. How about an update showing where some of our current internet & texting ‘slang’ originally came from? I keep trying to tell my kids they are doing exactly what we did and our ancestors did years ago. Of course they want to think they did it all!!

  • Thanks for all the years of ‘Straight Dope’ - Scotty M.