Scripture for OK Day


Screenshot from the opening credits of the 1957 movie about a fight that took place in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, in 1881. “O.K.” was less than 50 years old.

In just three days, on March 23, OK will celebrate its birthday, and it’s a milestone one, the 175th. How to celebrate? I’m going to do it with frosted cookies. But the great thing is, any way you celebrate, it’s OK.

Like the 4th of July, it can be an occasion for reading aloud the Urtext, the document that started it all. In this case, instead of a declaration involving life and liberty and pledges of fortunes and sacred honor, it just involves the pursuit of happiness. More plainly stated, it’s a joke.

Here it is, an article on Page 2 of The Boston Morning Post for Saturday, March 23, 1839, making obscure reference to an inside joke involving the Anti-Bell-Ringing Society. What’s that? A group of young men who were actually pro-bell-ringing. That is, they opposed a recently enacted ordinance prohibiting the ringing of dinner bells.

Got it? Here we go:

“Quite an excitement was caused here [in Providence, R.I.] yesterday, by an announcement in the Boston Post, that a deputation from the Boston A.B.R.S. would pass through the city, on their way to N. York. Nothing but the short notice prevented the Marine Artillery from turning out to do honor to the occasion. The report proved unfounded, however, and has led to the opinion here that the Post is not the organ of that illustrious body.

The above is from The Providence Journal, the editor of which is a little too quick on the trigger, on this occasion. We said not a word about our deputation passing “through the city” of Providence.—We said our brethren were going to New York in the Richmond, and they did go, as per Post of Thursday. The “Chairman of the Committee on Charity Lecture Bells,” is one of the deputation, and perhaps if he should return to Boston, via Providence, he of the Journal, and his train-band, would have the “contribution box,” et ceteras, o.k. —all correct—and cause the corks to fly, like sparks, upward.”

So there it is, o.k. born from the pen and ink of Charles Gordon Greene, editor of the recently founded Morning Post.

Why he thought to write o.k., why it’s spelled that way, how o.k. improbably developed rather quickly into the OK we know today—all that would take too long to tell here. You’ll just have to read it in my book, OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word.

But you don’t need to know history to know that OK is worth a not-so-solemn celebration. All together now? “Quite an excitement. . . .”

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