Everywhere in the world I’ve ever been, I hear people using OK. I first realized it when I was traveling, using my limited language skills in some language or another and I’d try my hand at haggling and be answered with “OK.”  I’ve asked taxi drivers where they’re from and whether they say OK there and so far it has been unanimously yes. OK is just a nonsense word, though. It doesn’t actually mean anything, does it? Where did it come from?

Turns out, no one really knows. There are several theories, a few of which you can read, if you’re interested, on Wikipedia. My favorite is the “Boston abbreviation fad” because what a dumb fad to have such a lasting impression on the world’s languages. And if this theory is correct, we should be celebrating 175 years of saying OK, although it’s more likely that OK has its roots in African languages, which makes it even older.

The thing is, I can’t imagine what language, especially English, would sound like with out OK. It’s a bit of nonsense that caught on because we needed it, perhaps. What did people say before those wacky Bostonians got in there? No one was really saying “all correct” were they?

Hey Stan, how about Netflix and chill tonight?

All correct.

Hmm, maybe. OK, or ok, or okay even, means so many things. But how did it permeate our language so fully? And why did it? And why, like bee’s knees or groovy did it not fade from favor after a decade or two?

There are so many meanings for these humble letters. OK means yes.

Will you go to prom with me?

OK means mediocre.

How was the new Gloria Swanson movie?
It was ok. Not her best.

It means fine or alright.

How are you feeling?
I’m ok.


Is Chinese ok?


Recently, it has started to mean “Whatever you say.”

I’m going to Paris to bungee jump off the Eiffel tower for spring break.


There are a million variations on these two letters, many of which are used by teenagers and other flighty language types.

Okie dokie/doke

Okely dokely, as per Ned Flanders



And my personal favorite, mmk.

Has any other word sprung to life so successfully? The next time you write or say OK, take into consideration its very strange position in the world’s languages. And I’ll be here collecting research notes for a rich, full volume on this topic that absolutely no one will want to read.




Etymology and the Great British Bake Off

I, like very many people, love the Great British Bake Off. Have you seen it? It’s the coziest reality show you’ll ever see. Some amateur bakers gather in a tent in a field and compete by making biscuits and suet pies and sponge and saying nice things to each other. The judges are a darling tiny woman named Mary Berry, and a total fox who is supposed to be mean, but isn’t really, named Paul Hollywood. The hosts are these two women, probably known in the UK, but just familiar to me as those funny ladies in weird blazers.

The show has been causing a quiet storm in the US. I was first told about it in 2014, and I thought I and the friend who mentioned it were the only two people watching. This year, I heard many more voices chiming in about how charming it was. There are two seasons available on PBS, if you want to get in on it. (Do NOT be fooled by the Great Holiday Baking Show on ABC, which is the American version. While identical in structure, theme music, and Mary Berry, it’s really lacking that je ne sais quoi of the original. Sorry Nia Vardalos.)

I thought the two seasons were it, but it turns out, those are seasons 5 and 6 and there are FOUR other seasons we haven’t gotten to see in the US! But I have some sneaky friends with bit torrent skillz and large Dropbox accounts who are willing to share. (To the internet police: Um. What?) The first season had a totally different structure, and by all accounts, I’m the only one who loved it. Instead of staying put in the same garden week to week, the giant oven-filled tent and its bakers traveled Great Britain, and the funny ladies in weird blazers interviewed historians about where these Great British baking traditions originated and how they became popular and enduring.

It’s fascinating!

For instance, I learned last week that French boudin (sausage) and English pudding probably come from the same root. And this makes total sense when you learn that a pudding was not the sticky toffee or plum thing we think of today, but black and white pudding, which are actually boiled sausages. Just think, without haggis, we might not have Snack Pack pudding cups.

So, there’s your first little etymology lesson. Courtesy of a funny lady in a weird blazer (the blonde one. I don’t wear blazers).