Allan Metcalf on the story of America’s greatest word, “OK:”
“OK,” Metcalf writes in an introduction, “is said to be the most frequently spoken (or typed) word on the planet, bigger even than an infant’s first word ma or the ubiquitous Coke. … It’s America’s answer to Shakespeare. It’s an entire philosophy expressed in two letters.”
Metcalf devotes almost half of OK to the word’s curious history:
The late Allen Walker Read (1906-2002), whom Metcalf calls a “scholar without equal of American English,” discovered the first recorded use of OK in the March 23, 1839, edition of the Boston Morning Post, where it appeared as “o.k.,” with a clarifying “all correct” immediately following. Actually, “o.k.” stood for “oll korrect”: There was a craze in the late 1830s not just for abbreviations but for abbreviations of mangled spellings. Of these faddish coinages, only OK and “the three R’s” (reading, ’riting, and ’rithmetic) survive.
Metcalf’s concluding chapter ends with the affirming:
OK has made tolerance more tolerable.