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OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word 1st Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195377934
ISBN-10: 0195377931
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Editorial Reviews

Review


"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.
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Product Details

  • 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: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #687,019 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on December 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
You have probably said, heard, or read sometime in the last day the word "OK." It is said, according to English professor Allan Metcalf, to be the most frequently spoken (or typed) word in the world. It might even be a whole philosophy of life. Well, Metcalf gets carried away with this little word, about which he has thought a great deal, and has produced _OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word_ (Oxford University Press). OK is a peculiar word in many ways, all of them evaluated here. Its frequency of use shows that it is filling an important niche, getting a meaning across when no other word will quite fit. Metcalf's book is like its subject, brisk, clear, and informal. Etymology and word usage may not be your idea of fun, but he has made them entertaining.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
It's hard to fathom that a short word like "ok" could conjure up two hundred pages of prose, but it does in Allan Metcalf's entertaining new book "OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word". The transformation of this word since its first "discovery" in the mid-1800s forms a rational basis for Metcalf's presentation and it's a successful effort.

1839 brought us the supposed invention of baseball by Abner Doubleday but it is also a year where "ok" made its first appearance...in an article printed in the Boston Morning Post. One thing that author Metcalf would like us to remember is that this is, indeed, where "ok" was first found. Helped along by the presidential campaign of 1840 where the incumbent president Martin Van Buren was assigned the nickname "Old Kinderhook", "ok", appeared with increasing popularity in the decade or two that followed.

Perhaps stemming from a parody of the phrase "oll korrect", "ok" has a value-free side, but as time went on it adopted a certain value...the "all ok" phrase so often found in early literature lessened over the years and now we find in so many instances that "ok" has developed a status of stasis.

Metcalf's book is rife with examples of American (and British) literature but it seemed to me that the present understanding of "ok" became clearest when Ring Lardner used it in his books of the early twentieth century. Could "ok" really have been the first words spoken by astronauts on the moon? A case for that can be found here.

While the history of "ok" is fascinating, Metcalf says little about the future of the word. Will it pass out of existence replaced by another expression of agreement or understanding? It may already have, to a degree.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
People have trouble believing that such an important word originated as a lame newspaper joke, but Metcalf demonstrates that this was indeed the case. He also gives a lot of space to the many competing theories that happen to be false. The word begins with a Boston editor's attempt at humor, acquires political significance, becomes indispensable in business, and finally goes around the world.
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Format: Hardcover
Interesting story of a widely used expression that most people never think about the origins of. It tells the story about Okay, and is inspirational to understanding the derivation of the English language and expressions in general.
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Interesting as can be
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