Where did OK come from?
OK is one of the most common words in the English language, but it is just 150 years old. You can trace its roots back to 19th century Boston (the USA location rather than the original Lincolnshire UK town) . It began in 1839 at the Boston Morning Post where writers & contributors started to use lots of abbreviations. OK first appeared as an abbreviation for “Oll Korrect”, and unbelievably was printed in a satirical article about grammar.
In 1840 however President Martin van Buren went by the name “Old Kinderhook” in the New York town where he hailed from. He used ‘OK’ in his campaign slogan which cemented the word’s popularity.
The word ‘okay’ is now used and recognised across most languages, with many adopting their own spelling (like okei in Norwegian).
What’s the difference between OK and okay?
There is actually no difference in meaning between “OK” and “okay”, they just represent two different ways to spell the same word to signify “all right”. Many people think OK is the shortened version of okay but OK came first.
We think it is fine to use either in a written piece provided you stick to using one or the other – it looks a bit messy if you use both!
Most commonly used?
Okay dominates in fiction as it is the version to use recommended by a lot of style guides: this is probably because people believe that ‘okay’ looks more formal. However, overall OK is the most commonly used version.
Which should you use in formal writing?
Both these spellings are fine to use with neither being more formal than the other. The choice between which one you use is only a matter of preference, unless you are following a style guide which should specify one or another. Although, if you are using it to mean the verb “to approve” or the noun meaning “approval” you should use okay in contexts like “Please review this and give me your okay on the changes”. This is more US English than UK English though!
Although this is a correct way to spell ‘OK’, you should avoid spelling it like this as it can get confusing in your writing. Do you mean OK or are you using O.K. as an acronym for something else like Oklahoma or OK! Magazine. This is definitely the least common way of spelling it and it doesn’t look right.
Examples of OK and okay
“I’m feeling okay, how are you?”
“OK, I’ll see you later,”
“Can you give me the okay on this?”
“I’ll be there soon, OK?”
“Are you okay?”
What do TP Transcription and University Transcriptions use?
Our transcribers use ‘okay’ for consistency, but if you prefer ‘OK’ please let us know, OK?
Emily Fagan is currently working as a researcher for TP Transcription Limited and has been contributing to articles on the site for subjects as diverse as Zoom meetings and online typing tests. Emily is currently studying for her A Levels and working part time for the company.