Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Spelling of 'OK'

Now that I think of it, perhaps the title has given away my preference prematurely. This word, which arose from the phrase "all correct" (via the jocular respelling "oll korrect"), and has since attained international popularity, is sometimes rendered 'OK,' at other times 'O.K.,' and often 'okay.' The three major American desk dictionaries I have at quick reference--Webster's New World 4, Merriam-Webster 11, and American Heritage--all favor 'OK'; WNW 4 and M-W 11 list 'okay' as a variant, and American Heritage includes it in the main entry (OK or okay), but OK is listed first.

I have always used this form, and cast a lightly disapproving eye at those who use 'okay.' But an occurrence for which I have much less tolerance than the simple use of the variant spelling is when members of the 'okay' school correct others for using the dominant, preferred form 'OK.' This has happened to me, personally, several times within the past few years--each time at the hands of someone who, by my (admittedly fallible) judgment, had less knowledge of English usage than I do.

In The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations, Charles Harrington Elster discusses a similar phenomenon, which he terms "erroneous correction." He uses the example of a scene from a movie (Heartburn, 1986) in which a woman uses the word 'GONdola,' stressing it (laudably) on the first syllable, and her husband interrupts her with the "correct" pronunciation 'gon-DO-la.' Those who correct 'OK' with 'okay' are, at least given the weight of current usage authority, committing a similar error.

If you must use the form 'okay,' that's fine (though some discerning readers may think less of you for it). But please, don't act like your form is dominant or preferred. It's not. That distinction still belongs to 'OK.'


Blogger Sam Q. said...

You prefer 'OK', while I happen to like 'okay'. As you point out, 'OK' is the more dominant usage, but 'okay' is standard enough that it is instantly recognized by literate users of English. (And dictionaries on the whole endorse it.)

So I have to take issue with your comment that "discerning" readers may "think less of" me for using 'okay'. Some readers may indeed think less of me, but I wouldn't call them discerning; I'd call them nit-picking idiots.

11:49 PM  
Blogger Thomas McAllister said...

My point was not that 'okay' is necessarily unacceptable, only that it is a variant usage. 'OK' has been and still is the preferred way to render the word. The latter form is additionally justified by its history as an abbreviation of 'oll korrect.' Thus, whether you live in the 'yooess' or the 'yookay' (or anywhere else), I say you can use 'OK' with confidence.

What you call 'nitpicking idio[cy]' I call an awareness of the fine points of usage. Spelling may not be the most important thing, but it definitely matters.

10:51 AM  

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