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175 Years OK

OK. Mark your calendar now for March 23, OK Day. It’s the day we pause to celebrate the birthday of OK in Boston, Hub of the Universe, on March 23, 1839.

OK?

Yes, OK! How can we sufficiently sing the praises of America’s and the world’s greatest word?

Let’s try. OK is the expression we use countless times every day to make arrangements, give approvals, and get by, often with a cascade of OKs:

“How about 2 o’clock? OK?”

“OK.”

“OK then.”

And of course that’s not all. There’s the “OK” that serves as a two-syllable expression of American pragmatism—something may not be perfect, but if it works it’s OK. Then there’s the “OK” that signals a new topic of conversation or a lecture, and the “OK” that promotes tolerance of diversity.

OK is so useful and distinctive that it’s known around the world. You may not know the language of someone you’re talking with, but “OK” with appropriate gestures can allow you to communicate.

Thanks to the research of Allen Walker Read, published in the 1960s, we happen to know the exact place and date of birth for OK. It was on Page 2 of the Boston Morning Post for March 23, 1839: “o. k.—all correct.”

What’s that? Yes, just a joke, since “all” doesn’t begin with o and “correct” doesn’t begin with k. Improbably, that joke became a slogan in the presidential campaign of 1840 and then—but there isn’t room here to tell the whole story. You’ll have to read about it in my book.

How great is OK? Well, in its way it’s as great as Shakespeare. Shakespeare is to literature as OK is to language. Both have no peers. And for that matter, both have attracted numerous false conjectures about their authorship.

This year’s OK Day is particularly significant, because it’s the 175th: the dodransbicentennial, if you will, or the septaquintaquinquecentennial. You could mark it by reading aloud the whole story in the Boston Morning Post, much as the Declaration of Independence is read aloud on July 4. Or serve cookies decorated with O and K. Or you could set aside a moment when the only word you can say is “OK.” You can announce what you’re doing on the Facebook page OKDayMarch23.

So Boston and the rest of the universe, get ready to celebrate on March 23. Rest assured, whatever you do, it’s OK.

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