Now I'm finally reading Metcalf's book, the subject of that review. He follows a line of argument developed by the late great Allen Walker Read, who originally traced the history. Metcalf in fact lays out in great detail just how unlikely that etymology would seem to be, but just how strong the case for it is. It's a remarkable story, but probably the key is that there was a craze, or maybe kraze I should write, of odd abbreviations and joking misspellings in the Boston Morning Post. It caught on with other papers and went viral, to really chop the story down. The same editor, Charles Gordon Greene, apparently used lots of other playful things, like O.W. for 'all right', which did NOT catch on. Word history is a weird and shaky enterprise most of the time, but this is a pretty decent looking story, from what I can see.
Hey Mr. Verb,
Long time fan, first time caller. Er I mean, mailer. Just a quick question about this recent NYT Book Review article I saw.
I’ve always wondered about the etymology of OK, but find the explanation given as a misspelled abbreviation for “Oll Korrect” to be less than satisfactory. It’s so pervasive that this seems like a strange place for it to have spawned from – editor speech and/or a joke in newspapers. Do you happen to know more about this? How valid is this theory??
Thanks for any light you can shed on it!
Metcalf goes through a pile of other stories. I highly recommend the book -- which Oxford sent to a member of Team Verb for review, by the way -- as a nice read. This is exactly the kind of book, by the way, that people who call themselves 'language lovers' should read ... it's clear and accessible and gives non-specialists, I think, a good picture of how to think about language history and language use. And Metcalf writes in a really easy style. If you've ever seen him preside over the Word of the Year discussions, you'll hear his voice as you read.