Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

It’s a term that is thrown around in a very casual manner, but what is the correct way to write it? You’ve probably seen it written as OK, but other publications may have it written as O.K. instead. Those two spellings give you the indication that OK (or O.K.) must stand for something, but then it can sometimes also be written as okay, which would indicate that it’s just a regular old word.

What Spelling Is Correct?

Oddly enough, it is actually completely acceptable to spell the word as OK, O.K. or okay. That being said, it is generally not acceptable to write the term as Ok (capital “O” and a lower-case “k”). If you were to write it as Ok, it would give the indication that you would pronounce the word like “oak,” rhyming with poke, soak or bloke.

What Does OK Mean?

There are several different usages for OK, but they all come down a very similar meaning. It could be used as an adjective to mean that something is decent or reasonably acceptable. It can be interpreted as being good, but not great. For example, the dinner we had at Ristorante da Sabrina in Venice was just okay. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t that good either. You could say that “OK” is ever so slightly on the side of being positive (rather than being negative).

“OK” could also be used as an interjection that implies approval. Let’s say that John asks Jane if she would like to have sushi for dinner tonight and she replies, “OK.” That is a response in the affirmative, meaning that she agrees with the choice of having a sushi dinner. Extending this, “OK” can also be used as a verb that can then be conjugated:

I hope that Jerry is going to okay the contract, because Edmond already okayed it.

Someone can also “give their okay” to something, which would carry the same kind of meaning.

Does O.K. Stand for Anything

When you see a series of capital letters together, with or without periods after them, you typically assume that the letters must stand for something. PIN stands for “personal identification number” and CIA stands for “Central Intelligence Agency.” Given this, we would think that OK must stand for something too.

Unfortunately, there is no universally accepted version of the “O.K.” origin story. One of the most common explanations is that OK stands for orl korrect, a misspelling of “all correct” from the early 1800s in the United States. Some people have also connected “OK” to Old Kinderhook, the nickname given to US Presidential candidate Martin Van Buren during the 1840 election. His supporters formed the “OK Club.”

We can’t be certain about the definite origin of OK, but the expression has become remarkably commonplace in the last 150+ years. How do you prefer to spell it? Do you write it as OK, O.K. or okay? They’re all okay with me, though I’m least likely to use O.K.