[lit-ideas] Re: America's Greatest Word

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 5 Nov 2010 08:25:09 EDT

In a message dated 11/4/2010 7:32:44 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, 
_jejunejesuit.geary2@xxxxxxxxxx (mailto:jejunejesuit.geary2@xxxxxxxxx)   writes:
Well, OK, then.  That's settled.
Mike Geary
OK in Memphis
It's not as easy as that. There are two problems. The etymological.  
"Etymologically speaking, OK means ...". This is the topic of Metcalf's book. 
Just one claim. "One proposed induction of okay involves English-speaking  
Americans taking up a locally-heard American Indian word."
"The emergence of the expression "OK" coincided with a seminal period in  
the development of American popular culture."
"The War of 1812 and the appearance on the American scene of the  
frontiersman — both in the flesh and as a national symbol — mark the beginning  
an indigenous psyche Americana which is strikingly reflected in the flood of  
Americanisms originating in the nineteenth century.[23]"
"The Choctaw etymology is not generally accepted today. For example, The  
Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang has four separate 
entries  for "O.K." and says that "okeh" is the obsolete equivalent of each of 
them. It  also says that "okeh," ('it is indeed') is a Choctaw expression. But 
it  nevertheless says that "[w]ithout concrete evidence of a prior and 
established  English borrowing from Choctaw-Chickasaw" any "derivational 
about a  Choctaw etymology are as "gratuitous" as those of the Liberian 
Djabo "O-ke," the  Mandingo "O ke," or the Ulster Scots "Ough, aye!" [24]"
"The Choctaw expression "okeh" is still occasionally used, sometimes in  
rather unexpected contexts[25][26][27] The "O.K. sauce" bottle mystique is 
alive  and well on the Internet; a Google search of "Masons OK sauce" yields 
over  50,000 ebay hits. And there are hundreds of options for downloading 
lyrics,  soundtracks, videos, tweets, ringtones, etc. of the song "All Mixed 
written  by Pete Seeger and recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary in 1964."
You know this language that we speak,
is part German, Latin and part  Greek
Celtic and Arabic all in a heap,
well amended by the people in the  street.
Choctaw gave us the word "okay"…
"A strength of this etymology of "O.K." is a repeated explicit, intentional 
 reference to the Choctaw associated with its use as well as the use of 
Choctaw  loanwords, in particular okeh."
The second problem is Gricean. Granting that OK is an adjective:
    A: Is _it_ OK?
    B: Yes, it IS OK.
The problem then is the EX-plicature, versus the 'implicature'. In  
Tenerife, implicatures did not count and this involved some deaths. But the  
explicature is too explicitly forgotten. The OED indicates that "OK" qua  
adjective, has 5 'senses' (but Grice objected this: "Do not multiply senses  
necessity" -- his modified Occam's razor):
x is OK

x is 1. all correct
       2. all right
       3. satisfactory, 
       4. good; 
       5. well, in good health or order. 
In early use, occas. more intensively: 
x is OK
x is  6. outstanding, excellent. 
Now freq. in somewhat weakened sense: 
x is OK
x is 7. adequate, acceptable. OK by (someone): fine by (a person),  
acceptable to (a person). 
Chiefly predicative. 

x is OK
x is 8. Fashionable, 
x is 9. modish; 
x is 10. prestigious, 
x is 11. high-class. 

Of a person: 
X is OK
X is 12. decent, 
X is 13. trustworthy; 
X is 14 congenial. 

x is 15. Appropriate, suitable; permissible, allowed. 
Freq. with for. 
Of a person: 
X is 15, comfortable, at ease, content, satisfied; 
X is 16 reasonable, understanding. Usu. with about, with. 

----- Once you have identified the EX-plicature you can DIS-implicate any  
implicature that may attach to it. To do that you need an illustration in a  
conversational context. And here, "OK" is hardly an easy 'move' to analyse 
in  'conversational American English'.
One etymological claim, for example, has that OK is an English Misspelling  
of "O.R." for "Order Received".
"A common mistake in the Western U.S. owing to the similar shapes of the  
letters R and K. 1790 !by 1790 Albigence Waldo Putnam 1859 
"The 1790 bill of sale "Andrew Jackson, Esq., proved a bill of sale from  
Hugh McGary to Gasper Mansker for a negro man, which was O.K." is cited in  
Putnam's History of Middle Tennessee; the assertion that the misspelling is  
common is added in James Parton's 1860 Life of Andrew Jackson. Woodford 
Heflin  in 1939 established that the 1790 bill did in fact read "O.R." rather 
than  "O.K." [2] 
As Metcalf notes (and others note) in his book published by the Oxford  
University Press: "America's greatest word":

""Okay" can fulfill  functions at many level of discourse."

"At the ideational level it  functions as an adjective or adverb (Bangerter 
and Clark, 2003), it signifies  approval, acceptance and confirmation by 
the speaker (Condon, 1986; Merritt,  1984), and affirmatively responds to a 
question (Guthrie, 1997; Heisler,  1996)."

From the OED, it is clear that OK is best treated as a _VERB_.  All others 
parts of speech are derivational. On the other hand, the  interjectionalists 
prefer to see "OK" as an interjection, along with "My God"  (short for 'My 
God be kind to me'). 


All correct, all  right; satisfactory, good; well, in good health or order. 
In early use, occas.  more intensively: outstanding, excellent. Now freq. 
in somewhat weakened sense:  adequate, acceptable. OK by (someone): fine by 
(a person), acceptable to (a  person). Chiefly predicative. 
Fashionable, modish; prestigious, high-class.  
Of a person: decent, trustworthy; congenial. 
Appropriate, suitable;  permissible, allowed. Freq. with for. 
Of a person: comfortable, at ease,  content, satisfied; reasonable, 
understanding. Usu. with about, with. 
Expressing assent, concession, or approval, esp. with regard to a previous  
statement or question: yes, all right. 
a. Appended as an interrogative to a  clause, phrase, etc., in expectation 
of agreement or approval.
b. Brit.  ——rules OK!: asserting the pre-eminence of a specified person or 
Introducing an utterance or as a conversational filler, typically without  
affirmative or concessive force, but rather as a means of drawing attention 
to  what the speaker is about to say: well, so, right. 
An indication of  approval; an endorsement, authorization. Freq. in to give 
the OK (to).In early  use chiefly with reference to the marking of a 
document, etc., with the letters  ‘OK’. 
Satisfactorily, acceptably. 
trans. To endorse, esp.  by marking with the letters ‘OK’; to approve, 
agree to, sanction, or pass. Freq.  in pa. pple. 

---- as an implicature-carrying particle, OK is frequently discussed, after 
 seminal work by Grice in this area, as a third turn receipt by a current 
speaker  (Bangerter and Clark, 2003; Guthrie, 1997; Beach, 1993)."

""Okay" has  also been described as serving a variety of text-structural 
functions as a  marker of information-state transitions."

"Several studies describe this  function of okay, frequently, however, 
labeling the phenomenon differently  (Levin and Gray, 1983; Merritt, 1984; 
Condon, 1986; Heisler, 1996; Rendle-Short,  2000; Swales and Malczewski, 2001; 
Bangerter and Clark, 2003)."

"Several  studies subdivide this structural type of okay, usually, however, 
these  subdivisions refer to the place where structural okay occurs or to 
the type of  new section it opens up."

""Okay" functions as a pre-closing device  (Schegloff and Sacks, 1973; 
Bangerter and Clark, 2003), it marks a return from a  digression (Bangerter and 
Clark, 2003), functions as a text bracketing device  (Rendle-Short, 2000), 
occurs in introductory or conclusion position (Levin and  Gray, 1983), or as 
an attention getter at the beginning of an interaction  (Heisler, 1996)."

"Finally "okay" and "alright" are frequently mentioned  in their function 
of backchannel signal (Heisler, 1996; Swales and Malczewski,  2001)."[173]"

"The 1977 Tenerife airport disaster, in which 583 people  were killed, was 
blamed in part on a misunderstranding between pilot and air  traffic control 
over the intended sense of the word "OK". While the controller  meant 
"understood, stand by", the pilot may have interpreted it as "approved,  
proceed". Standard control terminology excludes "OK" precisely to avoid such  

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