Rantings of a sub-editor

February 18, 2011


Filed under: BBC — substuff @ 2:54 pm
Tags: , ,

There’s an interesting article on the history of OK on the BBC website today – here. The expression, not the magazine. (I was trying to avoid describing it as a ‘word’, y’see.)

I’ve never thought about the origins of OK before. Personally, I am not a fan. When not restricted by a house style, I prefer to write okay. None of those horrible capital letters bullying the rest of my copy, all ostentatious and look-at-me-ish. (I was quite surprised to read that OK is the true spelling and okay the newcomer.)

So, no, I’m no expert on OK. Yet it strikes me that the article doesn’t cover everything that it should.

Firstly, the ‘joke’ escapes me – “o.k. (all correct)”. Ijusdongeddit. Secondly, the writer says:

What OK provided that the others did not was neutrality, a way to affirm or to express agreement without having to offer an opinion.

Consider this dialogue: “Let’s meet again this afternoon.”

Reply: “OK.”

Compare that with: “Let’s meet again this afternoon.”

Reply: “Wonderful!” or “If we must.”

But what about all right (or even alright, which I rather like) – doesn’t that fulfil exactly the same function?

And, thirdly, there are the excellent points made in the comments section. Several people mention au quai, from on the quay – meaning “safely docked”, or “ready to load”, or similar. Then there are the phonetic similarities with the Scottish och aye and the German alles klar, as well as several mentions of a battlefield abbreviation for zero killed. Even if these are all wrong (or, erm, ‘urban myths’, as one commenter calls them), they should at least have been mentioned and discounted.

But then, apparently this chap’s written a whole book on the subject. Yes, really. The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word. So maybe he mentions them there. That’d be OK (ugh).



  1. I’m an ex-pat Brit, having been in the US from some decades now.

    But I’ve never gotten the gist of American slang, and ‘OK’ has been one of the more nettlesome expressions for me.

    Back in Blighty, the closest approximation to ‘OK’ might be ‘right’. Right? Unless one uses ‘OK’ to mean ‘understand?’, rather than ‘right’. In which case, the UK equivalent might be ‘see?’, see?

    Another UK equivalent for ‘OK’ might be ‘brilliant’, which really means ‘satisfactory’ to a Brit; but Americans think ‘brilliant’ means ‘ingenius’, which they would take as a compliment, rather than merely as a passing grade.

    However, in the UK, I would never shorten ‘brilliant’ to ‘brill’, for risk of sounding both mildly dated and extremely toff.

    Which would be neither right nor OK.


    Comment by AVoiceFromAmerica — February 18, 2011 @ 5:53 pm | Reply

  2. […] OK « Rantings of a sub-editor […]

    Pingback by Jakarta Hair | THE WARRINGTON PAPER — February 18, 2011 @ 5:54 pm | Reply

  3. Sometimes, if I’m writing OK at the beginning of a sentence, I write ‘Ok’, and want to kill myself.

    Comment by Claire Maxwell — February 19, 2011 @ 10:34 am | Reply

  4. […] Ranting sub has picked up on this here. Can’t say I agree with her preference for “okay”. But then she might not have […]

    Pingback by Is this OK? « The Louse & the Flea — February 21, 2011 @ 4:35 pm | Reply

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