This Word is Just OK



Kevin Trotman, via Flickr

What do you know about the word okay? It seems very simple, but it is actually very complex! Robin Basselin and Luke Haley look at the uses and history of this common word.

Transcript


Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Robin Basselin.

Voice 2  

And I’m Luke Haley. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1  

Does your language use any English words? Yes? No? Hello?

Voice 2

Languages often borrow words from each other. English speakers use many words that have come from other languages. For example, you may hear an English speaker say something like this:

Voice 3  

“I cannot believe I made that faux pas in front of everyone!”

Voice 1  

The words “faux pas” mean a social mistake. They are French. But many English speakers use them.

Voice 2      

Another example is the word “prima donna.” This word is Italian. It means “first lady.” English speakers use it to speak about someone who only thinks about themselves.

Voice 1  

Many languages also use English words. For example, they use the words computer, internet and email. However, these are not the most commonly used English words. Do you know what it is? Okay. Yes, the word is okay. Today’s Spotlight is on the word okay.

Voice 2  

The word okay is an informal, spoken word. You will almost never find it in formal speeches, news media, or books. But it is one of the most common English words. It is also one of the most common English exports from the United States! English professor Allen Metcalfe wrote a book about the word okay. He told CBS News,

Voice 4  

“There is no other word that is as widely recognized throughout the whole world. No other American English word has had so much success like that.”

Voice 1  

In a general way, okay signals approval, acceptance, or agreement. People can use it many different ways. Liz Waid, Christy Van Arragon, and Adam Navis demonstrate some ways to use the word okay.

Voice 5  

First of all, okay can be an adjective or an adverb. It can describe an act or a thing. In this way, it means “all right” or “fine.”

Voice 3

“Are you okay?”

Voice 5  

Here is another example:

Voice 3  

“I hope the children are okay while we are gone.”

Voice 5  

It can also mean fine, but not so great.

Voice 6  

“Did you enjoy the dinner last night?”

Voice 3  

“It was okay.”

Voice 5  

Okay can also be an act or a thing - a verb or a noun.

Voice 6  

“Did your employer give you the time off that you asked for?”

Voice 3  

“Yes, he okayed it.”

Voice 5  

Okay is also common as an interjection. It can appear suddenly, on its own. In this way, it can simply mean “yes” or “sure.”

Voice 6  

“Can you please wash those dishes?”

Voice 3  

“Okay.”

Voice 5  

Or it can signal that people need to attend.

Voice 3  

“Okay. Time to begin, please.”

Voice 5  

It can also mean “enough!”

Voice 3  

“OKAY! Please stop now!”

Voice 6  

“Okay, we are done with this part anyway.”

Voice 5  

You have already heard how many different meanings the word okay has. But did you know that the meaning also changes depending on how you say it? The tone of a person’s voice makes a difference. The meaning can change no matter how you use it. For example, the sentence “It was okay” could be positive or negative.

Voice 6  

“How was the show?”

Voice 3  

“It was okay.”

Voice 5  

What do you think this person meant? What about this next example?

Voice 3  

“It was okay!”

Voice 5  

The first answer says that the person was not really satisfied, but he could not think of something bad to say. The second answer says that the person was satisfied. A person’s tone also changes the meaning of the word okay as an interjection.

Voice 6  

“I think we should visit Sophia tonight. Okay?”

Voice 3  

“Okay.”

Voice 5  

The first person used okay to ask for agreement. The second person used okay to express questioning, or doubt.

Okay is a small word, but it has many different uses!

Voice 2  

So where did this confusing, crazy word come from? People debate the origin of the word okay. The earliest record in print was in 1839 in the city of Boston. At the time, it was popular to use groups of letters to signal words. It was also common to spell the words wrong, using the wrong letters, as a joke. A Boston newspaper used the letters “O” and “K” to mean “oll korrect.” The O meant “all”, and the K meant “correct”.

Voice 1  

Around the same time, US President Martin Van Buren began to use the word. He was the president, and he was trying to get elected again. His political party used the saying, “Vote for OK.” Van Buren was from a town in New York called Kinderhook. In this case, he used the letters OK to mean “Old Kinderhook.” The saying tried to give the message that Old Kinderhook was “all correct.” Van Buren lost the election. But many language experts think that the election saying helped to make “OK” a common word.

Voice 2  

This explanation may also explain the unusual spelling of the word okay. People can write okay in two ways. They can write the word using just the letters “O” and “K”. Or they can write it this way: o-k-a-y. Both ways are correct!

Voice 1  

Other language experts think the word has a Native American origin. The Choctaw people are one of many Native American groups. The Choctaw language has a word “okeh.” This word means “it is so.” This is almost the same meaning as today’s word “okay.” As early as 1825, Christian Bible translators used “okeh” in their Choctaw Bible translations. In the 20th century, US President Woodrow Wilson used the Choctaw language to sign documents as “okeh.”

Voice 2  

Other language experts say that okay came from West Africa. Some West African languages have interjection words that sound similar to okay. For example, the word “waw-kay” in the Bantu and Wolof languages, or “o ke” in the Mande language. These words also commonly signal agreement. West African people came to the United States as slaves. The theory is that African slaves used these words when speaking English. After a time, the use spread to the rest of the English speaking population.

Voice 1  

No one knows which story is true. But today, okay is now one of the most common words in English. It may not be formal, for speeches and writing. But people use it all the time, everywhere. Although “okay” is now an international word, Professor Metcalf believes that it expresses a cultural value of the United States. He told CBS News,

Voice 4  

“It is strong, it is simple. People from the United States do not like complex ways of life. And ‘okay’ is about as short and simple as you can get.”

Voice 2  

OK. So, after hearing this program, are you okay with Spotlight? Or is it just... okay? Can you give your okay to our programs? Or would you use another word? We are okay if you are okay!

Voice 1  

The writer of this program was Jen Hawkins. The producer was Bruce Gulland. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘This Word is Just Okay’.

Voice 2  

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Do you use the word okay? Try using it in a sentence below!

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
Nghia Van
said on September 03, 2015

I okay with Spotlight!^^. Many English words are very difficult to use and practice. Thank Spotlight!
My email, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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Dorival
said on September 06, 2015

I’m beginning.

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Giant
said on April 14, 2016

Okey ! We are all Okey ! Hope Robin and Luke to be OK !
  Thank you for being ok !

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on April 17, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight
Subject: answer to the question above
Date: Sunday 17, April 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Robin Basselin, Luke Haley, Jen Hawkins, and Bruce Gulland:

First of all, I want to thank you for more one execellent issue that you bring us readers and learners of English.
Yes, I am very satisfied with Spotlight. No, It is not just ... Okay. It is more than Okay. It is excellent, great, wonderful, and a fantastic program. Yes, I can. Spotlight is a magnificent program in which we readers and learners of English have the opportunity to learn and improve our English skill. Thank you Spotlight. Yes, we brazilian people use the word Okay everytime. But, in the northeast of my country people use the word of the our mother language ( Está bem ). It means the same (Okay) It is okay, It’s ok! All right, or OKAY. Besides, northeastern people speak a little different of the South brazilian people. However, both knows the correct grammar and mother language to use. Some words and expressions make the difference between them.  Okay? Thanks!

Yours regards,
Severino Ramos
Brazil

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Martina
said on May 26, 2016

It was okay!

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TungDuong
said on August 03, 2016

Okay ! I Okay for post’s Spotlight :) Thank you

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Stácio
said on September 11, 2016

I usually use the word “ok” on my day. For example: Ok, it mean “all right” or are you okay?.

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Kim Kim
said on January 03, 2017

ok. I’m ok with this program : ). i often say ok in many cases. Such as when i’m agree, i’m fine or when i want to ask someone else about something. And sometimes i say ok instead of “yes”.