Why Do People Say 'OK'?

The term "OK" is so common that we don't give its origin much thought -- but the tiny word has quite an intriguing history. There are several theories explaining the roots of "OK," but the most commonly-accepted theory is that it's an abbreviation for two words, neither of which actually begin with an "o" or a "k."

Most historians agree that OK stands for "all correct," which is why we use the word to express agreement, approval or just as a way of saying that everything is fine. The shorthand expression came about during the late 1830s, when it became popular to use abbreviations rather than entire terms during conversations. For example, people would commonly say OFM instead of "our first men" and SP instead of "small potatoes."

The trend started out in Boston and spread throughout the West. It soon became fashionable to make facetious abbreviations using purposely misspelled words , such as saying "NC" for "'nuff ced" instead of "enough said." OK is believed to have begun as a similar witticism, standing for "oll korrect," which 19th century folk found particularly humorous because neither "all" or "correct" are, well, correct.

Many of the humorous abbreviations from the 1830s and 40s didn't stand the test of time, but OK grew and spread in popularity all throughout the world -- partially thanks to would-be President Martin Van Buren. The term OK had been around for only two years when supporters of Van Buren chose to use it during his presidential reelection campaign in 1840.

Van Buren's followers picked OK to represent his nickname, "Old Kinderhook," because he was a native of Kinderhook, N.Y. Although Van Buren lost his bid for reelection, his campaign drew national attention to the abbreviation and the term stuck.

Wonder if "LOL" or "WTF " will have similar staying power?

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Remy Melina was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University where she graduated with honors.