Two thousand years before Romulus and Remus founded the Roman Republic, Nomadic bands of hunters and gatherers established the world’s oldest civilization in the fertile valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. They called it “Sumeria”.
100 years ago, “Sumerologists” labored to learn the customs and ways of this ancient civilization. One such team pieced together a stone tablet and, through years of study, managed to decipher the cuneiform words contained thereon.
Turns out it was a father, 5,000 years ago, bitching about his son. The kid won’t work, he’s disrespectful, and he hangs out with the wrong kind of people. If he isn’t borrowing the chariot, all the kid wants to do is drink wine and lie around the house. These kids today.
The random and silly teenage fad of the era went unrecorded. Dad doesn’t mention if the kid was eating goldfish, sagging his toga or doing a Chinese fire drill around the chariot. That particular silliness would wait for another day, but one thing is certain. The random enthusiasms peculiar (though not exclusive) to youth, are as old as history itself.
In the 1830s, it was a favorite practice in younger, more educated (and probably bored) circles, to intentionally misspell words, and abbreviate them when talking to one another. As always, holding the key to the code meant the difference between being with the “in crowd”, and everyone else. As teenagers today have their own slang based on distortions of common words: “Awks” means that’s awkward, “YOLO” means You Only Live Once, and “BFF”, means Best friends forever, the in-crowd of the 1830s had a whole vocabulary of abbreviations.
On March 23, 1839, the initials “O.K.” were first published in The Boston Morning Post. This particular abbreviation stood for “Orl Korrekt.” All correct. Other popular slang of the era included “KY” for “No use” (“Know Yuse”), “KG” for “No Go” (“Know Go”), and “OW” for all right (“Oll Wright”).
The expression got a boost in the Presidential election of 1840, during the re-election campaign of democrat Martin van Buren, also known as “Old Kindherhook”, after the village of his birth.
The others dropped from use, probably around the same time that parents figured them out, but OK steadily made its way into the speech of ordinary Americans. I found myself texting it, just the other day.
There’s a lesson in here somewhere, IMHO, for anyone raising a teenager. And for the kid who thinks he/she’s the first in all recorded history, to ever (fill in the blank). LOL.
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