Obama warns of the "old okey-doke"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Fri Jan 25 02:58:05 UTC 2008

On Jan 24, 2008 8:47 PM,  <RonButters at aol.com> wrote:
> Couple this fuller context with Lighter's observation that "okey-doke" has
> had a noun meaning 'scam' since at least 1967, and it looks like I was totally
> wrong to insist that Obama must have meant the more conventional meaning. I'm
> not sure what to make of the dictionary's suggestion that the 'scam' meaning
> originated in AAVE. Given his background--raised in part by older white people
> from Kansas--I'd expect that the 'OK' meaning would be more familiar to him.
> But there is no way of predicting, I guess, what someone with his intellect is
> capable of.

Obama could very well have picked up "(the old) okey-doke" along with
other AAVE-isms from his time as a community organizer on Chicago's
South Side, starting when he got out of college in 1983. Doesn't seem
too surprising to me, given that the 'scam' sense has been widespread
enough among black speakers to be noted occasionally in the mainstream
media, e.g.:

Washington Post, Apr. 5, 1985, p A17
"Chicago Blacks are too politically sophisticated to go for the okey
dokey." [quoting Chicago businessman Noah Robinson, Jesse Jackson's
Washington Post, June 30, 1989, p B1
"We got robbed, gypped, jerked around -- they gave us the okey-doke."
[quoting Spike Lee]
Wall St Journal, Dec 20, 1991, p A18
"They're lying to you, K.J., laughing behind your back, got us going
for the okey-doke." [quoting rapper Ice Cube, ad-libbing in the Walter
Hill movie "Trespass"]

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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