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Voice of America

Where did
"OK" (okay)
come from?


A program in Special English. Every word has its own story. Where did it come from? How did it find its way into the language?

Our word today is "OK." It is known and used by millions of people all over the world. Still, language experts do not agree on where it came from. Some say it came from the American Indians. When Europeans first came to the Americas, they heard hundreds of different Indian languages – most were fully developed. One tribe especially had a well-developed language. This was the Chocktaw tribe. They were farmers and fishermen who lived in the rich Mississippi valley in what are now the states of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. When problems arose, Chocktaw leaders discussed them with the tribal chief. They sat in a circle and listened to the wisdom of the chief. He heard the different proposals, often raising and lowering his head in agreement, and saying "Okeh" meaning "It is so."

The Indian languages have given many words to English. Twenty-four – almost half – of the American states have Indian names: Oklahoma, the Dakotas, Idaho, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Tennessee, to name a few. And the names of many rivers, streams, mountains, cities, and towns are Indian.

Nevertheless, there are many who dispute the idea that the word "OK " came from the Indians. Some say that President Andrew Jackson first used the word. Others claim the word was invented by John Jacob Astor, a fur trader of the late 1700's, who became one of the world's richest men. Still, others say a poor railroad clerk made up this word. His name was Obadiah Kelly, and he put his initials, "O.K.," on each package people gave him to ship by train. So it goes. Each story sounds reasonable and official. But perhaps the most believable explanation is that the word, "OK," was invented by a political organization in the 1800's. Martin Van Buren was running for President. A group of people organized a club to support him. They called their political organization the "O.K. Club." The letters, "O" and "K," were taken from the name of Van Buren's home town – the place where he was born – Old Kinderhook, New York.

There is one thing about the word, "OK," that the experts do agree on that the word is pure American and that it has spread to almost every country on earth. There is something about the word that appeals to peoples of every language. Yet, here in America, it is used mostly in speech, not in serious writing. Serious writers would rather use such words as "agree," "assent," "approve," "confirm," and so on. In recent times, the word, "OK," has been given an official place in the English language. But it will be a long time before Americans will officially accept two expressions that come from "OK." These are "oke" and "okey-dokey."

own: propia; its way: su espacio, su lugar; still: de todos modos; fully developed: completamente desarrollados; tribe especially: tribu en particular; arose: surgían, aparecían; tribal chief: jefe de la tribu; wisdom: sabiduría; proposals: sugerencias, propuestas; raising and lowering: subiendo y bajando; it is so: así es; have given: han concedido, han dado; almost half: casi la mitad; to name a few: por citar algunos; streams: arroyos; nevertheless: no obstante; dispute: ponen en duda, discuten; claim: sostienen; fur trader: comerciante en pieles; made up: inventó; reasonable: razonable; believable: creíble; running for: postulándose para; was born: nació; do agree on: en la que coinciden; has spread: se ha extendido; that appeals: que atrae; peoples: los pueblos; yet: aun así. and so on: etcetera; oke / okey-dokey: expresiones coloquiales para decir "bien" o "bueno".

Source: VOA - Voice of America

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