LINGUIST List 3.123

Sat 08 Feb 1992

Disc: Synaesthesia, Finite Sets, Origin of OK

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. John Cowan, SYNESTHESIA
  2. Margaret Fleck, Finite sets
  3. Zvi Gilbert, The True Origin of OK


Date: Mon, 3 Feb 92 10:48:21 ESTSYNESTHESIA
From: John Cowan <cowanuunet.UU.NET>


--		...!uunet!cbmvax!snark!cowan
		e'osai ko sarji la lojban
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Message 2: Finite sets

Date: Wed, 5 Feb 92 12:23:18 -06Finite sets
From: Margaret Fleck <>
Subject: Finite sets

I'm having trouble understanding Wlodek Zadrozny's claim about
well-orderings of finite sets. Specifically, he says that there are
"finite sets which cannot be well ordered," for example "a set of
balls in a box, which is finite, but, intuitively, not well ordered."

There is a big difference between saying that a set "is not totally
ordered" or "is not well-ordered" (the two are equivalent for a finite
set) and saying that the set "cannot be well-ordered." It is quite
easy for a set to satisfy the former condition: it is sufficient that
no order has been specified in the current context (e.g. in the
current conversation, in the current book, in recent literature in the
field). It is also only a temporary condition: I can add a total
order to any finite set at any time just by writing down the
definition of the order (which is finite).

Saying that a set "cannot be well-ordered" is much stronger. In the
normal mathematical sense of the term, any finite set can be
well-ordered. If a set cannot be well-ordered, that is a permanent
mathematical fact about the set.

Notice also that a "well-ordering" is simply a particular sort of
ordering. Like "partial ordering." It does not mean an order which
has been precisely specified or can be computed or is generally
accepted. That is, its meaning (in mathematics) is NOT parallel to
that of "well-defined."

Margaret Fleck
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Message 3: The True Origin of OK

Date: Wed, 5 Feb 1992 23:54:34 The True Origin of OK
From: Zvi Gilbert <>
Subject: The True Origin of OK

>From: Pamela Munro <IBENAJYUCLAMVS.bitnet>
>Subject: OK

Re the suggested Wolof origin of OK

There have been many versions of the origin of OK, but it seems that
its "true" origins have been conclusively established by one Allen
Walker Read of Columbia University in _American Speech_ in 1963 and
1964. As some of the denizens of LINGUIST may not be aware of this, I
will summarize it here.

"The letters stand for "oll korrect" and are the result of a fad for
comical abbreviations that flourished in the 1830s and 1840s. Read
buttressed his arguments with hundreds of citations from newspapers
and other documents of the period...the fad began in Boston in the
summer of 1838...Many of the abbreviations were exaggerated
misspellings which were a stock in trade of humourists of the day.
One predecessor of OK was OW "oll wright", and there was also KY "know
yuse"...Most of the acronyms enjoyed only a brief popularity but OK
was an exception... Democratic supporters of Martin Van Buren adopted
it as the name of their political club, thereby giving OK a double
meaning ("Old Kinderhook" as Van Buren was known, was a native of
Kinderhook, NY). OK became the warcry of Tammany hooligans in New
York... and was mentioned in newspaper stories across the
the time the campaign was over, the expression had taken firm root

I quote the above from Cecil Adams' brilliant book _More of the
Straight Dope_, a companion volume to his first, _The Straight Dope_.
No aspiring know-it-all ought to be without these two books.

There's about a billion other theories, but apparently, there's
evidence for this one.

Wolof? Choctaw? NOT! :) :)

By the way, these two books contain chapters on language, where Cecil
responds to questions from the Teeming Millions on language issues.
He discussed Berlin & Kay's work on colour terms in some detail, in
response to a query on whether "primitive" man could see colour, and
also discusses eskimo morphology (an early attempt to debunk the Great
Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax, though not as rigourous as Pullum.)

Hope this is informative, and interesting too!

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