Birthday cake with lit candles on cake stand
Birthday cake with lit candles on cake stand Andy Roberts—Getty Images/Caiaimage

The Word 'O.K.' Has Just Celebrated Its 177th Birthday

Mar 24, 2016

The word 'ok' first appeared in print 177 years ago on Wednesday, as a jab thrown in a rivalry between Boston and Providence newspapers.

The use of the two letters (or the fully-spelled version, 'okay') has spread around the world to indicate varying states of positivity. But the Boston Morning Post writer of a short item firing back at some snark from the Providence Journal likely had little knowledge that the joke would resonate through the ages.

Here's first appearance of the word 'ok' took place on March 23, 1839, as Atlas Obscura writes today:

"We said not a word about our deputation passing “through the city” of Providence.—We said our brethren were going to New York in the Richmond, and they did go, as per Post of Thursday. The “Chairman of the Committee on Charity Lecture Bells,” is one of the deputation, and perhaps if he should return to Boston, via Providence, he of the Journal, and his train-band, would have his “contribution box,” et ceteras, o.k.—all correct—and cause the corks to fly, like sparks, upward."

While the word may have survived the test of time, the humor has not. The joke, at the expense of the Providence Journal, is that 'o.k.' does not stand for 'all correct', but for a misspelled, phonetic version of the phrase.

And just as 'ok' is still popular today, so is the environment that gave birth to the Post's joke: an "abbreviation craze."

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