Origin of the Word OK


Origin of the Word OK

The stranger in the back seat of my taxicab regarded me with quickened interest when I told him I was writing a book. "I'll tell you something Americans don't know but which many Greeks know — It's the origin of your word, O.K." He sat back with a mysterious air and regarded the shoppers in Union Square. His girlfriend gazed languidly out the other window. Now here was a gift. I knew lexicographers had been trying to pin down the roots of "O.K." for years.

"It's the Greek, 'Ola Kala,' meaning 'Everything's fine.'" He went on, "Two centuries ago, when Greek shipping dominated world trade, signalmen on sailing vessels would haul flags for 'O.K.' up their masts when they came to American ports such as Boston or Portland so the shore parties would know everything was all right. On shore, warehousemen would find the mysterious Greek letters, 'O K,' (among others) stamped on crates and boxes."


"Everything's fine!"


—You're kidding!


I had to laugh when he handed me a sheet of paper with the Greek words written in our own Roman alphabet: "Ola Kala." It was so obvious, I just had to ask him how American etymologists had missed it. He shrugged his entire body and said,

"—Very mysterious."

At the next red light, I turned and looked at the woman.


"It must be wonderful over there in Greece," I said with a smile.


"—Less bitter," she said, and looked away.


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