This morning, we received the following question from Tim, one of our e-bulletin readers:
âIs it okay to write âOKâ as âokâ? Or should the abbreviated form always be in upper case?â
Little did he know the amount of discussion his question would generate in the office, writes Cathy Relf.
The simple answer to Timâs question is that âokâ, while just about acceptable in text messages, isnât really OK for more formal contexts. The generally accepted form is âOKâ â upper case, with no full stops.
But, as there seems to be some appetite for a more complicated answer, hereâs a little further information.
There are several wildly differing theories regarding where OK comes from, from the German âohne Korrekturâ to the Ulster Scots âoch ayeâ and even the Wolof âwaw-kayâ. But the most widely accepted theory was presented by Allen Walker Read of Columbia University in 1963 and has its roots much closer to home.
He traced OK back to its first appearance in print, in the Boston Morning Post, in 1839. It featured in a satirical article on bad spelling, as a humorous abbreviation of âall correctâ â deliberately misspelled âorl korrectâ.
(… And letâs just pause a moment here to chuckle at ourselves for discussing how we should correctly spell a word that started life as a deliberate misspelling.)
Some people prefer to write âokayâ, because it looks more like a word and allows them to avoid the jarring appearance of block capitals. In Modern English Usage, HW Fowler writes: âThe alternative form okay is especially useful as a verb (= to say OK to, to authorise), allowing more comfortable inflected forms (okays, okayed, okaying) than OK does.’
However, many insist that the âokayâ spelling shouldnât be allowed. This is because when the word first appeared in print, in 1839, it was spelt âOKâ. The spelling âokayâ developed some time later. A quick look at Googleâs Ngram Viewer suggests that âOKâ had at least a 100-year head start on âokayâ, but that for most of the past 100 years the two have been neck and neck. Itâs only in the past 20 years or so that âOKâ has surged decisively back into the lead.
And that brings us tidily back to the present day. The most widely accepted spelling is OK, and for a quiet life thatâs definitely the one to go with. But if you want to make a stand for okay, thatâs OK by us.
â˘Â John McIntyreâs OK by me post in the Baltimore Sun explains the âorl korrectâ joke in more detail
â˘Â Stan Careyâs blog post Oke is OK discusses more variant spellings
â˘ and for the truly dedicated, Allan Metcalfâs book OK: The Improbable Story of Americaâs Greatest Word (Oxford University Press, ÂŁ12.99) is apparently a brilliant read.