Does ‘Okay’ Come from a Native Language?

There are several running theories on the etymology of ‘okay’ in English, which has been imported into so many languages (in part because they usually have /k/, low, and mid or at least high vowels). Unlike ‘good’ or ‘ehh’, it allows the speaker to express neutrality, though it usually connotes positivity. According to Merriam Webster, it is an abbreviation of ‘Oll Korrect’ i.e. facetious ‘all correct’, like how many people say ‘methinks’ instead of ‘I think’. Yet, there are other running theories as to its origin. Some say it comes from a Native language, say, the popular Lakota cry Hókahé! (Welcome!, Let’s do it!), but that’s a stretch since it was documented in use before the Lakota had a marked influence on the general public. A recent BBC article discusses the more likely possibility ‘okay’ it comes from the Choctaw word okey, meaning it is so.

However, it could also be the short form of “Old Kinderhook”, President Martin Van Buren’s nickname from the town he grew up in (Kinderhook, NY), who oversaw the Trail of Tears the removed the Choctaw from their ancestral homelands.

Some also speculate that ‘uh’ and ‘uh-huh’ comes from Cherokee v (yes), pronounced as a nasalized schwa; “uh”, especially since it is often elongated to v’v (‘ = glottal stop).

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One Response to “Does ‘Okay’ Come from a Native Language?”

  1. [...] friend Matthias also blogged about it on Saivus; specifically he looked at the possible Native American origin of the word. This sort of [...]

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