Karen’s Conundrum – OK or okay



“Curiouser and curiouser!” ~ Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Welcome to the debut of CWG’s blog, Karen’s Conundrum. Often it’s interesting to trace an event, an idea, or a word back to its origin. I thought it only fitting to start this inaugural post with a brief recounting of this blog’s genesis.

Not long ago at one of our Saturday critique meetings, when there was a rare window of time available between critiques, I seized the opportunity to put a question out on the floor to my fellow members pertaining to the word “OK/okay.” As a copy editor, I am constantly plagued by pesky, annoying imponderables, and that particular day OK/okay was my conundrum du jour. My question was simple: Which word/spelling is correct? OK or okay? I was pleasantly surprised at the lengthy, insightful, and humorous discourse that ensued. But in the end, it was agreed that no answer was conclusive.

At the close of this meeting, one of our members approached me and suggested that we should periodically do a short segment where we cover gray/grey topics, and that it could be called Karen’s Conundrum.

And there you have it: the birth of the concept and the name of this blog. So, in honor  of the subject matter that triggered this blog’s existence, today’s post is about OK/okay and how I attempted to successfully quash this irksome conundrum (only to make room for the next one to step up to the podium).  And here we go…


I started to delve deeper into OK/okay, hoping to find an authoritative source that would guide me in which form of the word is correct. Many a time before, to no avail, I’ve traveled down this OK/okay path, but this time I came across a rabbit hole, fell in, and instead of finding a bottle that said “Drink Me,” I found a book that said “OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word.” In over 200 pages, author Allan Metcalf, provided everything a person would ever need or care to know about the word OK/okay.

AliceDrinkMeColorAllow me to share a couple of key points. The true origin of the word OK/okay: Founder and editor of The Boston Morning Post, Charles Gordon Greene, on March 23, 1839, in a lame attempt at jocularity, purposely used the wrong letters when he decided to abbreviate the words “all correct.” He proceeded to use it again three days later in another article, and thereafter OK was commonly found in the Post.  (There are a few other theories that have been put forth over the centuries, however unfounded, so I’ll let you read about them on your own if you are so compelled.)  Thirty years later, in 1869, the first literary instance of the word “okay” was used in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

There’s much, much more to the evolution of the usage of OK/okay that is covered in Metcalf’s book. I found the book very interesting and entertaining, but in the end, I was still left searching for that elusive definitive answer to which is correct, OK or okay. So for the millionth time I broke open my Chicago Manual of Style and APA Publication Manual. I referenced dictionaries. I combed websites, literary blogs – anything, everything, in search of the Holy Grail. And after all was said and done, after I nibbled on the cake that said “Eat Me” and my brain that was stretched to its limits with tidbits of knowledge about OK/okay shrank back to its normal size, what I was left with (aside from some random trivia that includes the fact that Stephen King uses okay), is this:

It’s personal style preference. It’s the house’s style preference. Just be consistent.  Do not mix OK and okay between dialogue and narrative. It’s one or the other throughout.  However insignificant the word OK is, however noncommittal and value neutral it is, one thing that every writer needs to acknowledge is that just by the nature of it being in all caps and that the letter K inherently is a letter that catches the reader’s eye, it does jump out on the page, it does shout at the reader. So think about the tone of your story.  If you want the words to flow, not punch, then think about using “okay.”

In conclusion, OK is okay. Okay is OK. OK is OK as is okay is okay. And I will hereby take a solemn editor’s vow to refrain from raising my red pen at the sight of OK (I prefer okay) in your manuscript. I can promise you, however, I shall slay that “alright” in one fell swoop should I find … oh, forgive me. I digress. We will have to address that subject another day in another post.

“Every day I’m reminded how beautiful, yet bizarre, the English language is, like each one of us.”   ~Karen