Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Let's get started. OK?

The arguments should start slowly and continue at a deliberate pace because they can get boring quick. In a recent post I mentioned the ongoing deliberation between two sources of OK. I stated that one group claims the initialism originated from Martin Van Buren's birthplace of Old Kinderhook and that another group claims it started from oll korrect. That's not the most accurate abbreviation of the debate.

OK has is a long-contested etymology and it is familiar reading for most serious students of lexicography and etymology. And it is an interesting one. So I shall polish and clarify my statement regarding the Old Kinderhook -vs- oll korrect camps. Both phrases are widely regarded as co-contributors to the widespread use of OK. By many of the same people. The current meaning of approval is attributed to early association with oll korrect: a humorous misspelling of all correct. The same arguers who grant that much typically grant that the phrase was then cemented into common usage by the publicly repeated often reported campaign cries of Van Buren's supporters. This view is largely built on the findings of Allen Walker Read which he shared in a series of articles for American Speech in the early 1960s.

Justin makes the following comment in a response to my previous post:

At any rate, I've found Read's etymology questionable in its construction and especially in his approach to arguing it. Others have as well. It is curious that Read disregarded any Native origin of the word, and then ascribes its creation whole cloth to a group whose main unifying feature was mimicry of things they thought were 'Indian'.

He then provides the URI of a piece that also questions Read's conclusions and methods. The essay "The Choctaw Expression 'Okeh' and the Americanism 'Okay'" was written by Jim Fay in 2002 and a revision posted in 2007 less than one month ago.

I will distribute my discussion of this piece and its argument over several posts. I will not consider Fays claims in the strict order in which he presents them. Instead the order will follow the publication dates of Read's articles.

Although in 1941 Read had published "The Evidence on 'O.K'" in the Saturday Review of Literature, his series in American Speech began with "The First Stage in the History of 'O.K.'" in 1963. I will commence by evaluating Fay's criticisms of this latter essay which he lays out in his section "Read's 'First Stage' Paper."

But I promised to move slowly. So I shall let this introduction stand. Fay's essay is not a short piece but it's worth either perusing1 (if you're in a hurry) or perusing2 (if you have more time).

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