Theories abound on the origins of “OK”; the most prominent advanced by Columbia University professor and lexicographer Allen Walker Read. Read spent the better part of two decades on the subject, published four studies that proposed at least two theories: first, that it was a popular abbreviation of “Old Kinderhook,” popularized by the campaign of Martin van Buren. The second study, undertaken after his theories were challenged with an earlier finding of the word’s use, attested it came from “oll correct,” a common way of spelling in 1839. Whatever its origins, “OK” has been with us for almost a century and a half, since it first known print use in a newspaper article.
On this day, March 23, in 1839, an edition of the Boston Morning Post mentioned a trip by the Anti Bell-Ringing Society. Talking about its leader, the article said he “would have his ‘contribution box,’ et ceteras, o.k.—all correct—and cause the corks to fly, like sparks, upward.” This, the earliest known use of the term, seemed to confirm Read “oll korrect” hypothesis.
Through the Post was the first known print publication of the term, a handwritten court document discovered dating back to the late 1700s attributed the first use of the term to Andrew Jackson (a notion that Read refuted in his third article “Could Andrew Jackson Spell?) Less controversially, a diary entry of a traveller in 1815 used the term in noting he “arrived ok”.