The History of the Word "Okay/OK" And Why The World Uses It

By Karen Harris
Chou "An" Chun-An makes an "okay" sign with his hand at the League of Legends World Championship in San Francisco. (Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games via Getty Images)

"Okay" is one of those words that is so much a part of our vernacular that we hardly give it a second thought, but where did it come from? There are a number of theories, from Civil War–era biscuits to ancient languages, but the truth is that it was probably a silly joke among 19th-century yuppies.

Text-Speak In The Pre-Texting Era

In the late 1830s, the young, educated elites thought it was uproariously funny to intentionally misspell words, which then became acronyms that they used for slang. For example, "no go" became "know go" and then "K.G." It was oddly similar to the text-speak abbreviations that we use today, e.g. B.R.B. and O.M.G. The only difference was that only an inner circle of those in the know (or "no," as the case may be) were in on the gag.

Charles Gordon Greene, editor of the Boston Morning Post, was one such hip youth. On March 23, 1839, he ended a short article in the newspaper with the letters "o.k." next to the words "all correct," apparently intended to convey the humorous misspelling "oll korrect." By the end of the year, the acronym was a linguistic phenomenon.