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Is it OK to write ‘okay’?

By Curtis Honeycutt

I’m from Oklahoma, the state which had the best state song until Ray Charles’ “Georgia” became The Peach State’s official song in 1979. As a native Okie, I’m proud to say that I’ve written “OK” more times than I can count – even if that was mostly in addressing mail to fellow Oklahomans.

When it comes to the word “OK,” how do you write it? Is it OK to write “okay”? Let’s dive in.

First of all, and not that you were wondering, OKeh Records (yes, that is the correct way to spell it) is a record label that came into being back in 1918. The spelling comes from founder Otto Karl Erich Heinemann’s initials. Among other great artists, OKeh recorded albums by Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. As of today, the label is a subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment.

Now it’s back to OK, OK? We get the word OK from an intentional spelling of “all correct,” spelled “oll korrect.” In the 1830s, “oll korrect” (or “orl korrect”) was a slang term and intentional misspelling of “all correct.” This soon got abbreviated to “O.K.” When Martin Van Buren ran for reelection in 1840, his nickname “Old Kinderhook” got abbreviated to “OK.” Van Buren’s campaign didn’t coin “OK”; they merely capitalized on its popularity in the widespread jargon of its time.

The “OK” craze caught on during Van Buren’s failed reelection campaign, and offshoot spellings took root. This is where we get the spelling “okay.” So, the million-dollar question is: which spelling is “oll korrect” in 2022?

Maybe you write “okay.” Perhaps you prefer “OK.” In fact, both are OK. While the AP Style Guide (which newspapers use) prescribes “OK,” the Chicago Manual of Style states that both OK and okay are OK. For the purposes of this newspaper column I have defaulted to OK, so my editor stays off my case.

Although “OK” was the original “word” from which we got “okay,” the “okay” variant has become the more popular usage in books. According to the Google Books Ngram Viewer, which charts how often words appear in English language books, since the 1960s, “okay” has become more popular than “OK” by a margin of four to one. However, in our text message and shorthand-saturated digital world, my guess is most people type “OK” in texts more often than they painstakingly write out all four letters of “okay.”

—Curtis Honeycutt is a syndicated humor columnist. He is the author of Good Grammar is the Life of the Party: Tips for a Wildly Successful Life. Find more at curtishoneycutt.com.

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