An Origin Story Of Modern Social Language

I’m OK with modern terms like TBH, LOL, and OG. Yes, they may look odd and out of place in a Mythos Story, and many people think they should be relegated to texting and social media platforms, but let me assure you they’re here to stay.

And oddly enough, they have a far less absurd history than the ubiquitous word OK.

OK is one of the most versatile words in spoken English. It can be used to affirm: “OK, let’s do this!” Or to express doubt: “OK … where are you going with this?” It can be used as an adjective, an interjection, or as a passive aggressive response to a very long text: “K.”

You might assume that such an important part of our vocabulary must have ancient origins. Yet neither Shakespeare nor George Washington would have had any idea what you meant by OK.

OK dates from the 1830s and was originally considered east coast urban slang.

It was an abbreviation of the phrase, “all correct,” which first appeared in a Boston newspaper in 1839. More precisely, OK is an abbreviation of “oll korrect,” a parody misspelling by east coast city-dwellers on how someone from rural farm country might spell the word.

That’s right—this common word we still use today originated as a joke.

This popular 1830s slight on rural intellect didn’t end with OK. Merriam Webster cites KY for “know yuse” (no use) and OW for “oll wright” (all right). Yet, while these other slang spellings disappeared after a few decades, OK became a core part of the English vocabulary.

Martin Van Buren

And for that, we can credit Martin Van Buren.

When Van Buren ran for reelection in 1840, he was often referred to as “Old Kinderhook” after his hometown of Kinderhook, New York. Due to the obvious double meaning of the word OK and the abbreviation of his hometown, his campaigners embraced the slang of the day to proclaim “Old Kinderhook is Oll Korrect.”

And while Van Buren’s campaign went down in flames, the widespread use of OK as a political campaign slogan was likely what elevated the word from the 19th century equivalent of a meme to a bonafide word in the dictionary. 

One of the greatest strengths of written languages is their ability to evolve.

So while some Mythos survey responses might have you ROFL, give pause before editing these acronyms away. In the end, they might help the reader better understand the author.

And in my opinion, that’s more than OK.

About the Author

Jack Budington

Ever since Jack was a kid he has been absorbed in learning everything he can about the world. On family road trips he would constantly pester his parents with questions.

“How far away is it to the moon? How fast is Roger Clemens fastball? What is the oldest town in Connecticut?”

Luckily, for everyone involved, smart phones were invented.

However, Jack’s desire to understand the world never ceased.  As he grew older he became especially interested in history. To Jack history is a vast web of billions of stories with endless complexity. His time at Kenyon College solidified what he loves about studying history—finding patterns, omissions, and meaning in this vast web of stories.

Now as a writer for Mythos, Jack finds and share stories about what it means to create communities of belief and bind people together through values and ideas. Each week Jack hopes to learn something new and hopes you do too.