Is it Okay to Use O.K. in Historical Fiction?

Is it Okay to Use O.K. in Historical Fiction?

Readers of historical fiction are often unaware of word origins or the era in which new words found their way into common use in the English language. I’ve noted book reviews by well-meaning readers who criticize authors for using “okay” or “O.K.” prematurely, hence inaccurately. I’ve chuckled at readers who state, emphatically, that 1890 was way too early to use “O.K.”–because they’re incorrect and the author used the term (O.K.) with historical accuracy. “Okay”, on the other hand, is definitely not okay for 19th century settings.

Allen Walker Read (a renowned etymologist) identifies the earliest known use of O.K. in print as 1839, in the March 23 edition of the Boston Morning Post (an American newspaper). [Wikipedia]

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O.K. vs OKAY

O.K. is documented to have existed in the United States, in print, from at least 1839, and widely used in print from the mid 1800’s.

Okay, however, is much newer. The use of “okay” showed up in the mid twentieth century.

okay

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“OLL KORRECT”

Using my subscription to newspapers.com, I searched for the oldest recorded use for “Oll Korrect” (in the subset of current newspapers available to me, as of May 11, 2016). In this ever-changing subset of printed archives, the oldest/earliest documentation I could find was in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, on 24 October, 1842.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, on 24 October, 1842.

Oll Korrect? Isn’t that a wretched misspelling?

Century Dictionary. O.K. old keokuk. The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette. Fort Wayne Indiana. 3 Oct 1915

Century Dictionary, quoted in The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette of Fort Wayne, Indiana, on 3 October, 1915.

…At the time of the expression’s first appearance in print, a broader fad existed in the United States of “comical misspellings” and of forming and employing acronyms, themselves based on colloquial speech patterns:

The abbreviation fad began in Boston in the summer of 1838 … OFM, “our first men,” and used expressions like NG, “no go,” GT, “gone to Texas,” and SP, “small potatoes.” Many of the abbreviated expressions were exaggerated misspellings, a stock in trade of the humorists of the day. One predecessor of OK was OW, “oll wright.” [Wikipedia]

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MYTH AND LEGEND

The Daily Republican. Monongahela, Pennsylvania, on 24 April, 1890.

The Daily Republican, of Monongahela, Pennsylvania, on 24 April, 1890.

O.K. Presidential Campaign 1832. The Day Book. Chicago IL. 7 Apr 1914

O.K. Presidential Campaign of 1832. The Day Book of Chicago, Illinois, on 7 April, 1914.

Oll Korrect. rooster as an emblem. the Indianapolis News. 19 Jan 1903

Oll Korrect: rooster as an emblem. The Indianapolis News, Indianapolis, Indiana, on 19 January, 1903.

First Use O.K. Harrison's Campaign 1840. Part 1. The Washington Post. Washington DC. 21 Oct 1909

First Use O.K.: Harrison’s Campaign 1840. Part 1. The Washington Post. Washington, DC. 21 October, 1909.

First Use O.K. Harrison's Campaign 1840. Part 2. The Washington Post. Washington DC. 21 Oct 1909

First Use O.K.: Harrison’s Campaign 1840. Part 2. The Washington Post. Washington, DC. 21 October, 1909.

First Use O.K. Harrison's Campaign 1840. Part 3. The Washington Post. Washington DC. 21 Oct 1909

First Use O.K.: Harrison’s Campaign 1840. Part 3. The Washington Post. Washington, DC. 21 October, 1909.

Origin of O.K. Historical Doubt. Santa Ana Register. Santa Ana CA. 29 Nov 1927

Origin of O.K. in Historical Doubt. Santa Ana Register. Santa Ana, California, on 29 November, 1927.

Origin of O.K. Part 1. St. Tammany Farmer. Covington LA. 10 Oct 1885

St. Tammany Farmer. Covington, Louisiana, 10 October, 1885.

Origin of O.K. Part 2. St. Tammany Farmer. Covington LA. 10 Oct 1885

St. Tammany Farmer. Covington, Louisiana, 10 October, 1885.

Origin of O.K. Part 3. St. Tammany Farmer. Covington LA. 10 Oct 1885

St. Tammany Farmer. Covington, Louisiana, 10 October,1885.

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A COMICAL RETELLING

corrected How it Began. part 1. The Evening News. Harrisburg PA. 21 Dec 1935

How it Began. part 1. The Evening News. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on 21 December, 1935.

corrected How it Began. part 2. The Evening News. Harrisburg PA. 21 Dec 1935

How it Began. part 2. The Evening News. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on 21 December, 1935.

corrected How it Began. part 3. The Evening News. Harrisburg PA. 21 Dec 1935

How it Began. part 3. The Evening News. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on 21 December, 1935.

corrected How it Began. part 4. The Evening News. Harrisburg PA. 21 Dec 1935

How it Began. part 4. The Evening News. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on 21 December, 1935.

corrected How it Began. part 5. The Evening News. Harrisburg PA. 21 Dec 1935

How it Began. part 5. The Evening News. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on 21 December, 1935.

corrected How it Began. part 6. The Evening News. Harrisburg PA. 21 Dec 1935

How it Began. part 6. The Evening News. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on 21 December, 1935.

corrected How it Began. part 7. The Evening News. Harrisburg PA. 21 Dec 1935

How it Began. part 7. The Evening News. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on 21 December, 1935.

corrected How it Began. part 8. The Evening News. Harrisburg PA. 21 Dec 1935

How it Began. part 8. The Evening News. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on 21 December, 1935.

corrected How it Began. part 9. The Evening News. Harrisburg PA. 21 Dec 1935

How it Began. part 9. The Evening News. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on 21 December, 1935.

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OKAY, NOW THAT O.K. IS SETTLED…

Fiction set in the 19th century may certainly, with accuracy, use the term “O.K.” as it is currently defined (It’s always had the same meaning). The only time the use of “O.K.” is inaccurate, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, is if spelled in the much more modern way: “okay”.

swirl for OK in teal

Definition of Love Making was Rated G in 19th Century First Historical Use of term “Correspondence Courtship” First Historical Use of term “Mail-Order Bride” How Much Research Does It Take?

Copyright © 2016 Kristin Holt LC

4 Comments

  1. Another wonderful article. I learn a lot from your articles which help me in my writing. Accuracy is important and you bring all of us more knowledge on interesting subjects. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much, Marianne–
      I appreciate your feedback and your kind words. Many thanks for reading and commenting!
      Best,
      Kristin

      Reply
  2. O.K! You got it covered. Great research, Kristin.

    Reply
    • Hey, thanks, Linda! Glad to see you here. =)
      Best,
      Kristin

      Reply

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