The recent obituaries for Allen Walker Read focused on his claims for the etymology of “O.K.” as an acronym for “Old Kinderhook” [or “oll korrect”]; he promoted these claims so assiduously that they have made their way into most dictionaries. But an article by Jim Fay conclusively (in my view) demolishes that etymology, proposing to return to the formerly accepted derivation from Choctaw oke(h), hoke(h). While Fay presses his evidence a bit (“…people of the 1800’s who were interested in the frontier undoubtedly knew of “Yak oke” as a very simple, useful and expressive phrase. The fact that they seldom, if ever, wrote the expression or used it in formal discourse does not mean they did not use it”), he is convincing enough that I have corrected my dictionary accordingly. I have also lost some respect for Read, who seems to have acted in an overbearing way without much regard for truth in this matter. [Via a MetaFilter comment (his first!) by TreeHugger, who has a blog rapid motion; thanks, Jordan!]

Addendum. I have received a communication from linguist Paul Chapin, who says “I always found Allen Walker Read perfectly charming and never overbearing.” I suspect Jim Fay may have overstated his case, and I am happy to present this counterevidence.

Update. I seem to have been seduced by the theories of a crank; Read’s etymology is established beyond any reasonable doubt. Mea culpa!


  1. Thanks for following up on this; the obituary coverage of Read’s etymology kind of left me hanging.

  2. We assume that this word originates from Plattdütsch “Oll klor” – All correct.
    It was used by an US General.

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