A few days ago Buffy tried to convince me that writing out 'okay' is preferable to using the capitalized letters OK. Not more correct. Not preferred by style guides. Just better. She even enlisted the support of her professor Chris Blake who dedicated a chapter in his most recent book to the issue.
In his short chapter "KO @ the Okay Corral" Blake offers the following argument:
We should change our current aberrant house style whereby we capitalize the word okay. Okay does not deserve to be uppercased. OK stands out and up, heralded on a page of print, yet it is the epitome of mediocrity. All lower-class words such as okay deserve lower-case status.
The chapter is full of enough corny jokes and cutesy orthographic games to deflect any serious contention. It's a satirical transcript of a meeting about publishing and style issues. He's having fun here so the occasional blasts of prescriptivism work best with a nudge-nudge tone. I'll look beyond his warning "--- it all, let's / these flaws before we cave in completely." By using "---" for "dash" and "/" for "slash" (I think that's what he intends) this line says DON'T TAKE ME SERIOUSLY. And Blake does like to advise that quite often. He's dedicated to self-deprecation. How else could he dare to suggest (as he does in the chapter) that relaxed orthography is "Barbarism!" crying out that "These are the last gasps of civilization."
Now--Consider how you knew that one of the lines in that last paragraph implies a loud voice. Not the exclamation mark. The all caps. As Blake himself suggests--capital letters get attention and demand power.
And that is the core of Buffy's preference for okay and her dislike for OK. OK looks too eager. It yells. It's not understated or humble as the word should be. OK is only okay. It's not great or fabulous or amazing so it deserves no all-caps spelling. She has always thought so.
But it's an initialism isn't it? And we overlook the 'all-caps=loud' convention in most other initialisms. I've noticed several other initialisms in blogposts and email messages lately that are almost always written with all caps. I've mentioned them before. Putting them in all caps is a good way of calling enough attention to them and perhaps even assuring the reader that there is no typo. "This is really what I intended. Now figure it out."
But some take more effort than others. And some take very little effort at all. When I was a child I would ask my mother if it was OK for me to turn on the TV. And FWIW IIRC she usually told me WRT the TV to leave it off. OTOH she sometimes said it would be fine. IOW OK.
AFAIK none of you readers had to scream out those initialisms. But OK is so common it doesn't need the signal to attention. We know what it means immediately. And we have okay as an alternative. We have emcee for MC and deejay for DJ. They're all fine.
When Buffy told me how brash and aggressive OK looks to her I suggested a new way of reading a few phrases.
- House MD! is on tonight.
- The UN! is in NY!
- I was born near Washington DC!
- Do you use a MAC! or a PC!? (I know I know. It's Mac and it's not an initialism.)
- I graduated from the U! of M!
In the chapter Blake has one character explaining that some people trace OK back to oll korrect. The character named "Chris Blake" counters this etymology and claims that it's more likely an abbreviation of "Old Kinderhook" the birthplace of Martin Van Buren because the US(!) president liked to sign off his notes with O.K.
The OED gives more credence to the Oll Korrect origin, relying on the "detailed evidence provided by A. W. Read" in American Speech. In its list of citations an 1839 source provides the gloss "all correct" alongside an uncapitalised o.k.. Old Kinderhook is only listed under O.K. as it refers to Van Buren his campaign or his supporters.
The source for all correct (C.G. Greene--Boston Morning Post) is also listed in Webster's New World 3rd edition as the earliest known use. John Ayto's Dictionary of Word Origins agrees with the oll (or orl) korrect origin claiming reinforcement from the Van Buren campaign cry.
WNW also suggests the possibility of an alteration of Scottish och aye 'oh yes'. This is harder to connect because of no clear trail like the 1839-40 explosion in the US.
Funk&Wagnalls (1960) and Webster's New Twentieth Century (1979) both recognize "Old Kinderhook" as the likely origin. Because of the available evidence and the clearer semantic connection I'm siding with Ayto WNW and OED. In any case there's no reason to think it's more likely to have originated with Van Buren. It makes more sense that Van Buren supporters fell upon an initialism identical to theirs that was tied to a sense of approval so they appropriated that connotation for their own use of O.K.