March 23, 2011

America's “Greatest Word” is Born – 1869

What, you may ask, is America's greatest word?

Okay, I guess I can answer that. As a matter of fact, I can answer with just two letters: OK.

According to Allan Metcalf, author of OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word, the word okay (also known as OK) is the most frequently spoken and typed word on the planet. It is ubiquitous—which means found everywhere—and therefore almost unnoticed.

By the way, has anyone else noticed that these days, with twitter and texting, ok is just too long? It's often shortened to just k!

Did you know that this worldwide word started off as a newspaper joke?

On this day in 1869, the Boston Morning Herald included in one article the acronym O.K. to mean “oll korrect” – a supposedly humorous misspelling of “all correct.” Acronyms were becoming a fad at the time—including acronyms no longer in use, such as R.T.B.S. (remains to be seen), and those still used by some, such as P.D.Q. (pretty darned quick).

The acronym O.K. would probably have died out were it not for the 1840 presidential election. President Martin Van Buren, who was running for re-election, was called Old Kinderhook after his birthplace in New York, and in his support many people started O.K. clubs and wore O.K. buttons. By the time the incumbent president lost the election, the word O.K. had won the hearts and minds of Americans.

Eventually OK caught on so big-time—worldwide, as I said—that we have almost stopped noticing it. As a matter of fact, there is a campfire game that depends on how little people notice the ubiquitous word!

Play a Game

The campfire game is called “The Stick Game.” Sit in a circle around the campfire, and show a stick to the others. Say, “I'm going to show you by example how to correctly handle the stick. All you have to do is copy me, and, if you do it right, I'll tell you.” Then you say, “Okay.” Start moving the stick in some way as you say, “I can play the stick game, the stick game, the stick game. I can play the stick game. Can you?” Pass the stick to the next person. He or she will try to move the stick in the same way and say the same words. If and only if the person says “Okay” at the beginning is it deemed correct. No matter how carefully a player copies your movements and words, if he or she doesn't say “Okay” at the beginning, you say, “No, that's not right.”

Hint: Each time the stick comes back to you, you can vary the movements you make with the stick. It's probably best to use the same words but of course IMPERATIVE that you start with “OK”!

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