English Learning Resources

The Most Popular Word in The World; OK

We hear people use the word ‘okay’ or ‘OK’ all the time. As a matter of fact, we respond to a lot of questions with ‘OK’. Here’s a fun fact for you, ET Mates. You probably knew this already but it’s just sitting at the back of your mind: ‘OK’ is used by literally every single person around the world. Not just English speakers, but people in China, Korea, Germany, Brazil, even in France also use the same response. What makes it even more mind boggling, they all mean the same thing!

However, do you ever think about what it means? And why is it so popular? Think about it, it’s only two letters and somehow it doesn’t mean anything but it is the most repeated word. The question is: can we say that ‘OK’ is as equal as the word ‘yes’?

If you look it up online / look it up on the internet, a lot of sources claim the word ‘OK’. Some say it is from the Scottish word ‘och aye’ which means ‘yes’. The Oxford dictionary stated that it was probably an abbreviation from the 19th-century‘ oll korrect’. Also, Wikipedia proposed a list of OK etymology with more than ten languages.

So how do we know what ‘OK’ really means? And how to correctly use it? The word ‘OK’, which only stands for only two words, has a very long story. So ironic, isn’t it? It all started from a trend in the 1800s, but before we get there, let’s go back a little further to the 1700s. Bear with me.

It was spoken by someone in North Carolina, USA. They frequently used the ‘OK’ to respond to what his or her friends say. Because back then there was no Twitter nor Instagram, the word ‘OK’ was slowly spread from mouth to mouth. People in the 1700s knew it as a ‘yes’. However, back then, the word ‘OK’ was not as popular as today.

Fast forward to the 1800s, the word ‘it went viral over the social media of its time: the newspaper. One day, a big media misspell the word ‘OW’ as in ‘oll wright’ with ‘OK’. Right before society gets over it, the media announced a new nickname for a public figure named Martin Van Buren, an ‘OK’ or ‘ole kinderhook’. So since then, the usage of the word ‘OK’ has increased drastically. In the 1800s, ‘OK’ had two meanings: (1) yes and (2) Martin Van Buren.

Somehow, the guy named Martin Van Buren was forgotten and now, in the 2000s, the context of the word ‘OK’ changed. Those people who speak English as a second language, often refer to ‘OK’ as a ‘yes’. Surprise! It turned out not to be a ‘yes’. So is it a ‘no’? No, it is also not.

We use ‘OK’ nowadays to describe something in the middle of yes and no. So if you ask your friend, “how’s your day?” and they answered, “just ok.” That means their or day is not so good but also not so bad. You can apply this to any conversation, if someone asks “are you hungry?” it is safe to reply with, “No, I’m okay.” Which means you’re not full but also not hungry.

To sum up, the word ‘OK’ has a very long story and it has become the ‘word celebrity’ amongst all words. It represents culture and trends in each century. Who knows that in the next century, the usage of ‘OK’ might change by its context. Let’s assume that it’s ok.