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LINGUIST List 23.1844

Wed Apr 11 2012

Books: OK: Metcalf

Editor for this issue: Danniella Hornby <daniellalinguistlist.org>

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Date: 29-Mar-2012
From: Jessica Prudhomme <jessica.prudhommeoup.com>
Subject: OK: Metcalf
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Title: OK
Subtitle: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word
Published: 2012
Publisher: Oxford University Press

Book URL: http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/Linguistics/TheEnglishLanguage/~~/dmlldz11c2EmY2k9OTc4

Author: Allan Metcalf
Paperback: ISBN: 9780199892532 Pages: Price: U.S. $ 13.95

It is said to be the most frequently spoken (or typed) word on the planet,
more common than an infant's first word ma or the ever-present beverage
Coke. It was even the first word spoken on the moon. It is "OK"--the most
ubiquitous and invisible of American expressions, one used countless times
every day. Yet few of us know the hidden history of OK--how it was coined,
what it stood for, and the amazing extent of its influence.

Allan Metcalf, a renowned popular writer on language, here traces the
evolution of America's most popular word, writing with brevity and wit, and
ranging across American history with colorful portraits of the nooks and
crannies in which OK survived and prospered. He describes how OK was
born as a lame joke in a newspaper article in 1839--used as a supposedly
humorous abbreviation for "oll korrect" (ie, "all correct")--but should have died
a quick death, as most clever coinages do. But OK was swept along in a
nineteenth-century fad for abbreviations, was appropriated by a presidential
campaign (one of the candidates being called "Old Kinderhook"), and finally
was picked up by operators of the telegraph. Over the next century and a
half, it established a firm toehold in the American lexicon, and eventually
became embedded in pop culture, from the "I'm OK, You're OK" of 1970's
transactional analysis, to Ned Flanders' absurd "Okeley Dokeley!" Indeed,
OK became emblematic of a uniquely American attitude, and is one of our
most successful global exports.


"Metcalf has produced a complete and completely entertaining history of the
most American of all expressions. More than 'just OK' -- revelatory and
engrossing."--Erin McKean, CEO of wordnik.com, author of Weird and
Wonderful Words, More Weird and Wonderful Words, and former Editor-in-
Chief, Oxford American Dictionaries

"Metcalf has written an appealing and informative history of OK." --
Washington Post Book World

"Fun and educational!"--Language Hat

"Have a look at Professor Metcalf's book yourself. It's worth your time."--You
Don't Say

"I think you'll find the yarn Metcalf spins to be far better than OK...So get this
book, OK? If you love words, history, or Americana, you'll find it fascinating."-
-Mark Peters, Good.com

"Metcalf's entertaining linguistic history is a treat for logophiles."--Kirkus

"Engagingly written as well as thoroughly researched."-- Arnold Zwicky's Blog

"Metcalf has done a remarkable job of imparting the life and times of a word
that began as a joke and ended up 'the most frequently spoken (or typed)
word on the planet.' Touching on its history; its use in politics, literature, and
business; its tiny stature and impressive reach; and even how it reflects
culture and identity, Metcalf has written an unbelievably OK book."--

"I highly recommend the book...as a nice read. This is exactly the kind of
book...that people who call themselves 'language lovers' should read ... it's
clear and accessible and gives non-specialists...a good picture of how to
think about language history and language use. And Metcalf writes in a really
easy style."--Mr. Verb

"Metcalf's book is an enjoyable addition to the shelfload of books prompting
us to reconsider everyday things--from appliances to the moon overhead to
the air we breathe. His book, in fact, isn't just enjoyable--that's right, it's better
than OK."--Los Angeles Times

Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
                            History of Linguistics

Written In: English (eng)

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