Lolspeak in the 1800’s???

I just found this in a book I was reading (credits for the book are below). This is, in essence, lolspeak!!

Following a long discussion of the ubiquity of “OK” in English and the many many attempts to trace its origins, this appears:

Allen Walker Read traced the origin of OK to a fad of facetious abbreviations that swept Boston beginning in 1838. In the summer of that year, Boston newspaper editors took to creating abbreviations for various phrases. These included, but were not limited to:

  • O.F.M. = Our First Men
  • G.T.D.H.D. = Give The Devil His Due
  • N.G. = No Go
  • S.P. = Small Potatoes

This practice is much the same as what we see on the internet today, where abbreviations such as the following are common:

  • ROTFL = Rolling On The Floor Laughing
  • IIRC = If I Recall Correctly
  • WYSIWYG = What You See Is What You Get
  • YMMV = Your Mileage May Vary

Often these Boston editors would deliberately misspell an abbreviation. On June 18, 1838, some nine months before OK makes its appearance, the Boston Morning Post included the following: “We jumped in, and were not disappointed either with the carriage, distance, or price. It was O.W.—(all right.)”

Clearly, the editor is abbreviating the phrase as if it were spelled oll wright. New York papers picked up the practice in the summer of 1838, using K.G. for no go, K.Y. for no use, and K.K.N. for commit no nuisance.[…]

It is in this tradition that OK makes its debut. The date is March 23, 1839, and the paper is again the Boston Morning Post. One of the editors penned: “. . . perhaps if he should return to Boston, via Providence, he of the [Providence] 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.”

Over the next few weeks and months, the Morning Post reused OK several times and by September the term had travelled south. The New York Evening Tattler first used OK on the second of that month. The newspaper abbreviation fad hit New Orleans in October and in November both the fad and OK began appearing in Philadelphia papers. The term was off and running.

But OK probably would have died the death its cousins O.F.M. and G.T.D.H.D. did if it were not for another event. In March 1840—exactly a year after OK made its Boston debut—New York Democrats formed an organization called the OK Club. The name of the club stood for Old Kinderhook as Martin Van Buren was running for reelection that year. Since OK was in widespread use prior to the formation of the OK Club, it seems likely that the name of the club was due, at least in part, to the phrase. In choosing the name, Democrats were linking their candidate, Old Kinderhook, with the phrase that meant “all is right.”

The 1840 presidential campaign saw widespread use of the initials O.K. They appeared on signs, in newspapers, in pamphlets. They were shouted at meetings and conventions across the United States. Old Kinderhook was not the origin of the word, but it was probably what cemented the word’s place in American speech.

This is from: Word Myths – Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends by David Wilton, Oxford University Press, 2004

One Comment

  1. “Oll korrect!” Funny, I’d heard both these theories of the origin of “OK” before, but I’d never seen how they connected. Thanks.

    That said, I think there is a common urge among literate people to play with words and their spellings. And true, it didn’t start in 2007 with HappyCat!

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