Even OUP Gets Etymologies All Wrong...

Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Wed Jan 14 02:38:22 UTC 2004

I have just noticed, to my distress, that the "Frequently Asked Questions"
entry for _O.K._ on the "Ask Oxford" web site includes the following,
which has about five different errors in it and pretty much embraces the
erroneous "Old Kinderhook" theory at the expense of the rock-solid "oll
korrect" theory:

"The oldest written references to 'OK' result from its adoption as a
slogan by the Democratic party during the American Presidential election
of 1840. Their candidate, President Martin Van Buren, was nicknamed 'Old
Kinderhook' (after his birthplace in New York State), and his supporters
formed the 'OK Club'. This undoubtedly helped to popularize the term
(though it did not get President Van Buren re-elected!). During the late
1830s there had been a brief but widespread craze in the US for humorous
misspellings, and the form orl korrekt which was among them could explain
the initials 'OK'. Such a theory has been supported by more than one
distinguished American scholar, and is given in many dictionaries,
including Oxford dictionaries. The only other theory with at least a
degree of plausibility is that the term originated among Black slaves of
West African origin, and represents a word meaning 'all right, yes indeed'
in various West African languages. Unfortunately, historical evidence
enabling the origin of this expression to be finally and firmly
established may be hard to unearth."


Fred Shapiro

Fred R. Shapiro                             Editor
Associate Librarian for Collections and     YALE DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS
  Access and Lecturer in Legal Research     Yale University Press,
Yale Law School                             forthcoming
e-mail: fred.shapiro at yale.edu               http://quotationdictionary.com

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