Each week, we take a look at a common confusions and ambiguities in the English language (that gives us about a century’s worth of material!) – making things easier through the power of friendly conversation… This week, when is it OK and when is it not OK?
Q: Hi AWC, a quick one this week please.
A: OK sure.
Q: Well precisely.
Q: Again, indeed!
A: Care to explain yourself?
Q: What’s the rule when writing “OK”? Or is it “okay”? Is it “O.K.”? Or even “ok”??? Are all of them okay or are some of them definitely not OK?
A: Okay. Luckily for us, these days “OK” lives in the house that informal built … meaning that you’ve pretty much got free rein on how you choose to use it.
Q: Seriously? That’s awesome!
A: Yeah, it’s one of those “choose your battles” situations. Grammarians are too busy hunting down stray apostrophes and misspellings of “real words” to worry about how you write it. You can choose any of the three options – “O.K.” with dots, “OK” without, or “okay” as a word.
Q: Aha! So there are only three options!
A: Well, clearly you can’t spell it “HF”…
Q: Thanks for clearing that up.
A: It wouldn’t make much sense would it.
Q: HF, point taken. So never “ok” lowercase?
Q: Which came first?
A: Definitely the dots version, because it actually stood for something.
Q: Ooooh really? Please share.
A: It arose in Boston and New York in the late 1830s during an odd period of slang abbreviation misspellings. People would say K.G. for “know go” (as in “no go”), N.C for “nuff ced” (enough said) and O.K. for “oll korrect” (all correct). There were others too.
Q: Wow, not a lot of entertainment options back then I guess.
A: Haha, quite, Anyway, the others faded out, but O.K. survived thanks to getting caught up in campaign slogans for the 1840 US Election.
Q: “Make America O.K. Again?”
A: Cute but not quite. Anyway, it actually was written as “okeh” originally, and found ongoing use as an easy way to show approval on documents (the verb form “to OK something” dates back to 1888). It wasn’t until 1929 that the spelling changed to “okay”.
Q: So just checking that I can use ANY of the three versions these days?
A: Our style guide favours “okay” in more formal settings (and when writing dialogue), however in most other situations “OK” is also perfectly okay. It’s even okay to use “O.K.” – but just be consistent with the two-letter form (i.e. always use OK or always use O.K. – don’t chop and change).
Q: Well okay then. Do you think I can use “okally-dokally” like Ned Flanders on The Simpsons?
A: Might be going a bit far there, neighbour. However, “okey doke” has been in use since 1932, and “A-OK” was made popular by astronauts in the 1960s.
Q: Oooookay then.
If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!