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Today's Word



Feb 18, 2019
This week’s theme
Words with presidential connections

This week’s words
teddy bear

Martin Van Buren, 8th US president
He was OK.
Image: Library of Congress

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with Anu Garg

Today is Presidents1 Day in the US. It’s observed to commemorate two of the most popular2 US presidents: George Washington (born Feb 22, 1732) and Abraham Lincoln (born Feb 12, 1809).

Until 1971, each of these birthdays was observed as a public holiday. Then, with typical American efficiency, we took the average of the two dates and marked a single day -- third Monday of February -- to honor not only Lincoln and Washington, but all US presidents (though some don’t deserve the honor at all).

In case you have presidential aspirations, here are the current qualifications and job requirements: you have to command an army of Twitter followers; play long grueling rounds of golf; understand issues of critical national importance, such as TV ratings; and fearlessly grab others’ private parts.

This week we’ll look at a few words with presidential connections. During the last 230 years3 of presidenting, we have had 45 presidents. So we’ll pick roughly every eighth to tenth guy and feature words connected with president #8, #16, #26, #37, and ... well, you’ll have to wait to see.

1Feel free to put an apostrophe in there somewhere, if it pleases you.

2What? A president more popular? Fake news! How many Twitter followers did Lincoln and Washington have, after all?

3The first president of the United States reported for duty in 1789 when George Washington punched the clock at the White House gate, metaphorically speaking. There were no punch clocks and no White House back then. There was no Washington, DC, either. President George Washington lived in New York and Philadelphia. So who sent out presidential tweets between 1776 and 1789? To simplify things a bit: no one. We had declared independence in 1776, but for the next 13 years, we were still trying to figure out small details, such as how to kick out those pesky Brits.


(o-KAY, O-kay)

adjective:1. Satisfactory; not very good or very bad.
 2. Correct.
 3. Mediocre.
 4. In good health.
noun:Approval or permission.
verb:To authorize or approve.
adverb:In a satisfactory manner.
interjection:Used to express acknowledgment or agreement.

In the 1830s, in Boston, there was a fad of making abbreviations; also of using jocular misspellings. So “all correct” became of “oll korrect” which became abbreviated to OK.
The word would have ended as a fad, but along came US President Martin Van Buren (1782-1862). During his re-election campaign of 1840, his supporters adopted the word OK as a nickname for him (short for Old Kinderhook; he was born in Kinderhook, New York) and the word has lived on ever since, not only in the English language, but most of the languages around the world. Earliest documented use: 1839.

It’s OK. It’s an all-American word. And like many things made in America, it’s used everywhere. Not bad for a two-letter word. It can work as an adjective, noun, verb, adverb, interjection, and probably anything else that your imagination can conjure. It’s not often that a whole book is written about a single word. Check out OK: The Improbable Story Of America’s Greatest Word.

“We’ve had an OK season. I think we know that we could have done better.”
Brandon Mcneil; Team Walker Looks for Scotties Breakthrough; Calgary Herald (Canada); Jan 23, 2019.

“Coulton denies she gave photographers her OK to attend the coalition launch.”
Andrew Hornery; PS Private Sydney; Sydney Morning Herald (Australia); Oct 27, 2007.

“She okayed the use of the painting as a label.”
Virginia Winder; Saving the Day with Beer; Dominion Post (Wellington, New Zealand); Feb 9, 2019.

“[Tony] guides me and makes sure everything is going OK.”
Liz Lightfoot; “Our Village Was Flooded”; The Guardian (London, UK); Mar 6, 2018.

“My answer: OK, but I won’t pay a dime after that.”
Sara Al Shurafa; October Was Long; Gulf News (Dubai); Jan 18, 2019.

See more usage examples of ok in Vocabulary.com’s dictionary.

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. -Thomas Jefferson, third US president, architect, and author (1743-1826)

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