- Hardcover: 224 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (November 9, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195377931
- ISBN-13: 978-0195377934
- Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 0.9 x 5.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,530,561 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word 1st Edition
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
Top 20 lists in Books
View the top 20 best sellers of all time, the most reviewed books of all time and some of our editors' favorite picks. Learn more
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
"Metcalf has produced a complete and completely entertaining history of the most American of all expressions. More than 'just OK' -- revelatory and engrossing."--Erin McKean, CEO of wordnik.com, author of Weird and Wonderful Words, More Weird and Wonderful Words, and former Editor-in-Chief, Oxford American Dictionaries
"Metcalf has written an appealing and informative history of OK." -- Washington Post Book World
"Fun and educational!"--Language Hat
"Have a look at Professor Metcalf's book yourself. It's worth your time."--You Don't Say
"I think you'll find the yarn Metcalf spins to be far better than OK...So get this book, OK? If you love words, history, or Americana, you'll find it fascinating."--Mark Peters, Good.com
"Metcalf's entertaining linguistic history is a treat for logophiles."--Kirkus Reviews
"Engagingly written as well as thoroughly researched."-- Arnold Zwicky's Blog
"Metcalf has done a remarkable job of imparting the life and times of a word that began as a joke and ended up 'the most frequently spoken (or typed) word on the planet.' Touching on its history; its use in politics, literature, and business; its tiny stature and impressive reach; and even how it reflects culture and identity, Metcalf has written an unbelievably OK book."--PopMatters.com
"I highly recommend the book...as a nice read. This is exactly the kind of book...that people who call themselves 'language lovers' should read ... it's clear and accessible and gives non-specialists...a good picture of how to think about language history and language use. And Metcalf writes in a really easy style."--Mr. Verb
"Metcalf's book is an enjoyable addition to the shelfload of books prompting us to reconsider everyday things--from appliances to the moon overhead to the air we breathe. His book, in fact, isn't just enjoyable--that's right, it's better than OK."--Los Angeles Times
"This biography-covering the history of an oft-overlooked word-is more than 'just okay.' In fact, it's pretty darn entertaining."--Failure Magazine
"The seventeen chapters of this handy little book set forth everything about OK one could reasonably ask to know...It is an impressively worthy biography, description, and analysis of what Metcalf calls 'America's greatest word.' It is a book full of entertaining facts and intriguing suggestions about the American psyche, which the history of OK illuminates...The book is full of life, highly readable, a page-turner...It is a sterling example of what linguistic scholarship can, and should, be for the general reader." --Dictionaries
About the Author
Allan Metcalf is Professor of English at MacMurray College and Executive Secretary of the American Dialect Society. He is the author of many other books on language, including most recently Presidential Voices: Speaking Styles from George Washington to George W. Bush (2004). He participates in the "Lingua Franca" blog of the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Top customer reviews
OK is a word invented by one person, and the person is known and the first use is known. This is not the way language usually works. Words seldom get invented, but in Boston in March 1839, there was an editor of the _Boston Post_, one Charles Gordon Greene, who wrote an editorial on some controversy now long forgotten. Specifically on 23 March 1839, he included the phrase "o.k.," and then immediately defined it as "all correct." The joke is that o.k. would stand for something being "all correct" when there's no O or K involved, that if it were really "all correct" it would be "a.c.," so OK is actually not correct at all, but it is all correct. It might have remained a joke word and been forgotten when the joke grew stale, except for peculiar and unique circumstances. There was a presidential campaign in 1840 in which Martin Van Buren, from Kinderhook, New York, became known as "Old Kinderhook," and the campaign used the new word, for they certainly wished voters to think that Old Kinderhook was OK. Then the "OK as a joke" got expanded to take in another presidential candidate, Andrew Jackson. He was a log-cabin type, the story went, with so little education that he could not spell worth a lick. He had coined OK for his misspelling of "all correct": "ole kurrek." It was a slander on Jackson, enjoyed by his political enemies, but there are still plenty of people that believe that he was the source of the word; there is not even documentation that Jackson ever used OK, much less invented it. The abbreviation got a boost in usage when it showed its utility in the new communication system of telegraphy, and became a standard. It shows no sign of ever leaving. The etymology of OK is so peculiar and its popularity so great that besides the Jackson explanation, people have been coming up with other explanations of its origin. Metcalf devotes a whole chapter to false etymologies, and warns, "If you want to know only the facts about OK, you can skip this chapter. It is filled with untruths." Someone found an O and a K as a countersign on a Revolutionary War document, and that was the start. Someone else found reason to think it came from the Choctaw language, and others found origins in French, or German, Finnish, Norwegian, Danish, Scots English, Greek, and more. Perhaps shipbuilders were the source since the first timber laid was labeled OK, for going to the Outer Keel. Or perhaps it was the name happily given to sailors for rum from Aux Cayes, a port in Haiti.
The false etymologies are entertaining, and so are the many other odd facts Metcalf has found. One of the most famous locales in the Wild West is the OK Corral in Tombstone. No one knows why the owner named it that; he might have just been using a familiar term. The cowboys involved, including three Earp brothers and Doc Holliday, did not have their gunfight there, although some of them had spent time at the OK Corral before the shooting started. A surprising number of communities have glee clubs or barbershop quartets named The OK Chorale. A colloquial translation of the Bible does not advise, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean," but instead, "If God says it's OK, it's OK." Coca-Cola testmarketed OK Soda in the 1990s, thinking to take advantage of the world's most used term of approval, but it went nowhere. You won't find OK even in the dialect written by Mark Twain or Bret Harte; it shows up once in Thoreau and once in Louisa May Alcott, but it was edited away both times. OK was the first word spoken from the moon. If OK is not short enough, plenty of people just say "'k." And, as The Dude says in _The Big Lebowski_, "if you're not into the whole brevity thing," people have been adding bits and pieces to make OK longer, like AOK or Okey-Doke, Okey-Dokey, or (on _The Simpsons_) Okely-Dokely. Metcalf has written a useful and amusing appreciation for a word whose world-wide and universal usage and unique etymology make it far more than OK.
All in all, I'd say this is an OK book.