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The Crazy Little Story of the Words “FUCK” and “OKAY”

Esta entrada también está disponible en: Spanish

Yeah, guys, the origin of ok is shady as fuck. Sorry, I meant “as shady as  the origin  of fuck“. Guess I’m feeling a little naughty sleepy today. But really, ok and fuck are probably among the most used words in the English language and, funnily enough, in other languages, too, especially ok. And isn’t it weird that there isn’t any definite proof of where they come from? Isn’t that a little disturbing? To me it is disturbing as fuck hell! So let’s take a look at the most common theories.

OK

The term OK, aka okay or ok, became popular in the United States in the 19th century, and since then, there have been numerous attempts at explaining where it comes from. Some of these explanations, yet appealing and entrancing, go a little too far, while others are simply too unlikely to be true.

One of the most famous ones is that which claims OK actually meant “zero killed”, as in “0K”. It is said that American Civil War soldiers carried signs with “0K” when no one had been killed during a battle. Yeah, I know, it’s strange not to have any casualties during a battle, but this account of the origin of OK is still one of the most widespread.

Another couple of cool explanations going around are the ones that suggest that OK comes from the Greek expression “ola kala”, meaning “it is good”; or from the Choctaw Indian word “okeh”, which means “it is so”. However, it happens that it is much simpler and dumber than that, as it is explained by Oxford Dictionaries (don’t forget to activate the subtitles if you need them!):

So it turns out we’ve been and still are using a word dozens of times a day because of a “jokey misspelling”? As it happens, OK actually comes from an intended misspelling of the expression “all correct”, spelled as “orl korrect”, which was then used as OK during a US presidential campaign. God, my life’s ruined! I have lost all faith in humanity…

In case you’re interested, Wikipedia has a list of proposed etymologies of OK, which only goes to show how much playful thought has been put into this matter.

FUCK

Now, here’s another word with an interesting background. Though not quite as ubiquitous as OK, the F-word  is definitely a close runner-up, as it’s used in so many contexts and has quite a few meanings of its own. And in the same way as OKfuck has made quite a name for itself as regards its origin.

The wackiest and most popular explanation of the birth of this word is the one that claims that FUCK, or rather F.U.C.K., actually meant “Fornication Under Consent of the King”. Oh, come on! As if having sex was forbidden unless you had the king’s permission! Or was it?! I don’t know, maybe it was; stranger things have happened. But hey, I can’t imagine a medieval king signing off petitions to fuck. Besides, on what basis would he decide where a couple were fit to fornicate? Anyways, as I said, quite a wacky one here. This time, the truth is probably less exciting.

It turns out that, most likely, as Jesse Sheidlower claims, the word fuck and its dirty meaning made its way into the English language in the 15th century. Apparently, it did exist in English before that, but meant “hit”. It probably arrived into English from a language like Low German, Frisian or Dutch. Mr Sheidlower, lexicographer and former editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, has dedicated an entire book to the F-word, so he must really know what he’s talking about, although nothing seems absolutely certain. Also, if you’re into this topic, the origin of this word, I mean, you might also want to read this great post.

So there you go; can’t go to bed without learning something new, can you? If you’ve heard about other possible or funny origins of these two words, we’d be happy to hear in the comments! In the meantime, you can go asking other native speakers what they know about these words when you do some language exchange with them. Download uTandem right now (iOS or Android) and practise your favourite language with other awesome native speakers like yourself. Oh, and don’t forget to leave a review on the App Store and Google Play! 🙂

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