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Where did the Term "OK" Come from?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Feb 07, 2024
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There are many dubious explanations for the origin of the term OK. Some date the term, which is essentially an agreement or an assent, back to the Native American term “okeh” which means an agreement. Others say the term came from African American slaves. Some connect it to the Greek olla kalla which means "all good."

Actually, these explanations are specious. We have precise written information regarding the origins of OK. It dates from the 1840 Presidential run of Martin Van Buren, and the OK club, which supported him. OK was an abbreviation of Old Kinderhook. Kinderhook, New York, was where many of the club members were from, thus the word has a double meaning.

OK soon became handy as a simple means for stating agreement. However, it should be noted that the OK club failed to get Martin Van Buren re-elected. The term sprang into public notice because many newspapers that did not support Van Buren began to define OK in negative ways. They used the word to mean Orfully Konfused, or Often Kontradicts, for example. The continued use of the term eventually migrated into not only the American language, but is used around the world as well.

Frequent usage of a word, especially by the media tends to popularize it. Thus we owe OK to the Republican media in the mid 19th century. Abbreviations prior to Van Buren’s election were quite popular, much as they are today. GT was used for "gone to Texas," in much of the print media, and NG meant "no go." It’s hard to know why this word stuck and others did not.

Today, we often use abbreviations in email and text messaging, and some are migrating into common language. For example TTFN, or "ta ta for now," is a frequent signoff, first used in the 1950s Disney film Winnie the Pooh by Tigger. People may simply say TTFN instead of speaking the whole phrase.

In a world where brevity is often important, OK holds up well. Though technically, it should be written as “okay,” OK is often the spelling of choice. It is a useful text term as well as a common speaking term.

LanguageHumanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a LanguageHumanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By fBoyle — On Feb 15, 2013

@anamur-- It might be from "oll korrekt." I think it's Swedish or old German for "all correct."

By serenesurface — On Feb 14, 2013

I've heard that OK comes from the phrase "all correct." It makes sense, but if this was true, shouldn't it be AK and not OK?

I want to find out the origin of OK because it's much more popular than we realize. I traveled to six different countries last year and I heard people in each country say OK. I heard this in Lebanon, in Italy, in Russia and China. Globally, OK must be the most common American phrase ever. So we should know where it originated from.

By candyquilt — On Feb 14, 2013
@anon125099-- That sounds like a much more plausible explanation than the OK club. Do you know around what year Oscar Krugen did this?

I honestly am not buying the media explanation because it doesn't explain how OK came to mean acceptable or all good.

By anon282038 — On Jul 26, 2012

Various origins of "OK" are possible. But a few explanations of "OK" are wrong: the ones that tell you its origin without expressing any doubt. No one knows for sure, so anyone who tells you the definitive origin is primarily interested in trying to appear smart, rather than in telling the truth.

By anon132065 — On Dec 05, 2010

i know the "OK" word comes from a small town because I just became an American citizen, and I studied American history, and I like war history.

Edgar from chicago

By anon131855 — On Dec 04, 2010

the OK word comes from a small town during the Civil War. They used to write on the blackboard how many people from the small town were killed each day. One day the people looked at the blackboard and saw "OK" - which stands for zero people killed that day.

By anon128545 — On Nov 19, 2010

The term O.K. is from the ship building days in England. It stands for "On Keel" where the rib of the ship was attached to the keel and it was square on-center the inspector would write with chalk O.K. Gig S., Valencia, CA

By anon125099 — On Nov 08, 2010

OK were the initials of Oscar Krugen. he used to test all war machinery for the USA services. If he found them good he used to pass them and sign OK.

By anon105727 — On Aug 22, 2010

From where I am from OK can stand for Oochie Koochie. Which is Ghetto lingo for doing the deed.

By anon52534 — On Nov 15, 2009

i have heard that the term OK is from the Greek old ship diaries and it stands for Ολα Καλα -- that means everything good -- and for sort O.K. so from the ships that travel all over the word.

By anon4399 — On Oct 16, 2007

I did read a long time ago that one possible origin is this: during the Civil War it was posted after each battle the number of people killed or not, the 0K (zero killed) became OK after some time. Is this possible?

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a LanguageHumanities contributor,...
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