Posted by: Jack Henry | February 11, 2020

OK or Okay?

Dear Editrix,

I’ve always wondered: is it OK or okay?



Dear HM,

What a good question! I know that we editors have discussed it amongst ourselves, but I’m not sure if we’ve ever covered it with the Editor’s Corner group, so let’s dive in! My heroine, Grammar Girl, wrote up an article about this topic that covers most of the bases:

The Origin of OK

"OK" was born in America in the 1830s. Much like the text messaging abbreviations of today, "OK" was an abbreviation for a funny misspelling of "all correct": "oll korrekt." According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the "okay" spelling didn’t appear until 1895.

There were other odd abbreviations with similar origins in the same era ("OW" for "oll wright," for example), but Martin Van Buren, whose nickname was Old Kinderhooks because he was born in Kinderhook, NY, adopted the motto "Vote for OK" and called his supporters the "OK Club" in his presidential campaign, and the campaign publicity established "OK" in the American lexicon.

"OK" and "Okay" Are Both OK

The two spellings peacefully coexist today: the Associate Press recommends "OK" and the Chicago Manual of Style recommends "okay." My publisher follows Chicago style for my books, but to honor the word’s origins, I insist on "OK" instead of "okay." So far, they have been kind enough to indulge me.

"Okay" Dominates in Fiction, but "OK" Wins Overall

Because "okay" is the form recommended by Chicago, and Chicago is the dominant style guide in the publishing industry, "okay" is the dominant form in fiction, as you can see from the following Google Ngram search that is limited to English fiction:

However, when the search is more broad, covering all English in Google Books, "OK" overtook "okay" in 1990.

I checked our JHA Style Guide to see if we discuss the term, but we don’t. We usually follow the Chicago Manual of Style, in our writing, but I have seen OK buttons and Okay prompts in our software. We would document each of those as they appear.

It looks like you are safe with either option! I like the Grammar Girl use of OK because it has been around longer, even though at some point I was trained to spell it out as “okay.” I think I’m going to go for the shorter, quicker option from now on. J

1881 Shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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