The Etymology of the Word “OK”

Consider the following hypothetical conversation between two people:

– Hey, you want to meet up this afternoon?
– Yeah, that sounds good. Your place at 8?
– OK, see you then

Does anyone find it difficult to understand this conversation? Probably not. Is there a term foreign to them? Not really. What’s that “OK”? What does this word mean? It’s easy: it means something like “Sounds good.” Or: “That time and place is confirmed.” But how common is it?

Obviously, those two simple letters have converted over time into a term so common in our language that, today, largely due to the frequency of use, has been incorporated as an accepted word in Spanish. The same applies to other languages where this word has become a universally recognized term, and with the same meaning for the different languages of the world.

But let’s step back a bit to a primary issue. Why is it so common? What is the origin of its meaning? Theories about the etymology of this seemingly simple term are varied. Here we detail some of the most important:

1. The most important claims that this word may come from the Civil War, because, when there were no casualties in the fields of battle, an annotation of 0 killed was written on a board, which in abbreviated form corresponded to 0K. The same system was also used during the Vietnam War. However, this origin is dubious, since the Civil War occurred from 1861 to 1865, i.e. 22 years after the first appearance of this term in 1839. Another theory concerning the same situation was that for two soldiers to communicate from one place to another without having to yell, they used a gesture with one hand forming a circle with the thumb and forefinger, which was a key to say that everything was correct, in English would be O Key.
2. Another theory says that at the time of slavery in the U.S., in the cotton fields of the South, slaves presented their load to the foreman, who then gave them approval in French (French was commonly spoken in many parts of the South at the time) with the phrase “Au quai” meaning “to the dock (for the load).”
3. It is also possible that it came from the American War of Independence. When the English brought any goods from the island to the New Continent, they would mark the boxes with OK, short for “Our Kingdom”, indicating that came from his land and was therefore reliable and higher quality.

Apparently, there are many theories, and there are several others in addition to these three options mentioned above. The truth is that, over the years, the use of this term has become so common that it has simply been implemented in countless languages. Ultimately, it is a simple and quick way to express approval, a common form of communication in the United States and throughout the world.

(Spanish version: