U. S. Information Service American English & Culture



More than 30 years ago Bergen and Cornelia Evans, in their book A Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage (Random House 1957), said of the word O.K.: “Originating in the United States, O.K. has spread to almost every country on earth. There is something about the phrase as a term of assent or agreement that gives it universal appeal. It is probably today the most widely used single term in human speech… used a billion times a day in informal speech and business notes and letter..”

Whence comes this word that has become, even much more during the past 30 years, a universal term for assent or approval?

Its origins are not certain. The most widely accepted explanation is that it was the name of a partisan political organization, the “O.K. Club,” formed in 1840 to support the candidacy of Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States, in his try for a second term in office. The letters O.K. stood for Old Kinderhook, the small town in New York State where Van Buren was born.

Another possible origin of O.K. may be found in the initial letters of a humorous spelling (in vogue in the late 1830s) of the phrase “all correct” – that is, oll korrect. It is, in fact, quite possible that its widespread use in popular speech arose as a result of the combination of these two early uses, both fostering the signification of “good” or “favorable.”

Some linguists have thought that O.K. is from the Choctaw Indian word okeh, meaning “it is so.” It has even been explained as the initials of Obadiah Kelly, a mythical railroad clerk who put his initials on all the packages he accepted as shipment.

Whatever its origin, the use of O.K. as an informal expression for something good persisted and spread, first in the United States and them abroad. this rapid spread may be at least partly attributable to the invention of the telegraph in 1844 and the comparative ease of tapping out the Morse Code equivalent of O.K. in place of the considerably longer all right.

The most usual spelling is the one we have used above: O.K. Other spellings are OK and okay (earlier okeh was also sometimes used). When employed as a borrowed term in other languages it is often spelled in one of the above ways; however, it is also sometimes incorporated into the spelling or writing systems of the foreign language.

Like many other English words, O.K. can be used as various parts of speech without change of form, always with the meaning of approval or endorsement, or that something is satisfactory, acceptable, or correct. It is used most often as an interjection: A. You`ll do this now, won`t you? B. O.K. As an adjective: He was hurt pretty badly when he fell, but he`s O.K. now or That`s an O.K. idea; let`s do it. As a noun: We`ll have to get the boss`s O.K. on this. As a verb: I`ll O.K. your proposal if you make the changes I suggested. As an adverb: The radio is working O.K. now.


Fill in the blanks in each sentence with two or three words that have the same sound but different spelling and different meanings. The number of blanks equals the number of letters in the missing word.

1. Our team — — game and lost three games.

2. They agreed — play — more games next week, —.

3. The —- golfers watched — the ball when they heard someone shout “—-!”

4. The four of us were so hungry that we — —– hamburgers.

5. Each player —– the ball ——- the hoop at least once.

6. As we approached the coast we could — the —.

7. Anna had — many things to — on her new machine that she had no time to — any seeds in the garden.

8. At the airport the guide said, “Come this — so they can

—– your luggage.

9. We had to —- in line until they determined the —— of out bags.

10. We —- the boat to the dock so it wouldn`t go out when the

—- came in.

11. Unfortunately, we did — put a very good —- in the rope, and it came unfastened.

12. The people on the safari —– that a —- of elephants was headed their way.

13. If you sit —- very quietly, you can —- the wind blowing through the trees.

14. The man in the — coat —- the notice to me.

15. We —- on horseback through the tall grass until we came to the —- that led to the town.

16. Everything looked so familiar; it was as if we had —- that —– before.

17. We went to where they were selling boats, and —- —- boats had a sign on them that said “— —-.”

18. The students —– down in their notebooks the sentences that they had learned by —-.

19. The wind —- the rain clouds away, leaving a clear —- sky.

20. The father said, “I will sit in the shade out of the hot

—`- —- while my —- —– the roof on the house.



1. Considering the pronunciation of laugh, women, and nation, how would you pronounce







The poem below is full of sound/symbol surprises in English.

I take it you already know

Of tough and bough and cough and dough?

Some falter, (but I think not you)

On hiccough; thorough, tough and through.

Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,

To learn of less familiar traps?

Beware of heard, a dreadful word,

That looks like beard and sounds like bird.

And dead; it`s said like bed not bead –

For goodness sake, don`t call it deed!

Watch out for meat and great and threat

They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.

A moth is not the moth in mother

Nor both in bother, broth in brother;

And here is not a match for there,

Nor dear and fear for bear and pear –

And then there`s dose and rose and lose

Just look these up, with goose and choose.

Now, cork and work; and card and ward;

And font and front; and word and sword;

And do and go; and thwart and cart –

Come, come, I`ve hardly made a start!

A dreadful language? Sakes alive!

I`d mastered it when I was five!



For the starred entries, two sets of answers are possible, an “a” group and a “b” group. For these three words, all “a” answers or all “b” answers must be used together. Split squares permit recording of both sets.


1. The 26 letters 1. Forward; in front; into the

8. One who inherits future

9. An individual 2. Elements of an alphabet

10. And so forth 3. Things that preceded

11. Stair; to walk letters in ancient writing

12. Fasten (something to systems

something) 4. Sixty minutes (abbr.)

14. 40-40 in tennis 5. The two

15. a. Doctor of Medicine/ 6. Compass point

b. Road (abbr.)* 7. Lukewarm

16. Railroad (abbr.) 11. Places of actions;

17. New (prefix) divisions of a play

19. Having no purpose or 13. Alternating current (abbr.)

practical value;

good for nothing 15. a. Greatest amount or

21. Distress signal number/b. Flower*

22. a. In the direction of/ 18. Plural ending

b. For example (abbr.)* 19. You and me

20. Behold! (poetic)



1. won, one; 2. to, two, too; 3. four, for, fore; 4. ate, eight; 5. threw, through; 6. see, sea; 7. so, sew, sow; 8. way, weigh;

9. wait, weight; 10. tied, tide; 11. not, knot; 12. heard, herd;

13. here, hear; 14. red, read; 15. rode, road; 16. seen, scene;

17. four sail, for sale; 18. wrote, rote; 19. blew, blue;

20. sun`s rays, sons raise


1. fish 2. taken 3. envelope



We invite you to send us your questions about American English and American culture. We will attempt to answer all letters personally as well as on this page when space permits. And if there are particular subjects you want us to discuss, please let us know. Our address is:

English Language Office/USIS

Embassy of the United States

Novinskiy Blvd., 19/23

121099, Moscow

Tel: (095) 956-4493

Fax: (095) 255-9766

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