Yesterday I wrote about how texting has taken on the habit of compressing words into a few letters, like “LOL” for laughing out loud, and such. However, lest we believe this transformation of our language has happened only with this new generation of communicators, it’s important to remember that the single most-often used slang in the English language began its life 181 years ago, in 1839 with an editor of the Boston Morning Post. In one article, he included the following: “ok – all correct.”
Ok – if you have any sense of spelling and grammar, you will quickly have observed that the word “all” does not begin with and “o” and the word “correct” does not begin with a “k.” Back in the 1830s and earlier, however, spelling was more of an art than an exercise of precision and correctness. I have the original letters from some members of my family that go back to the mid-1800s, and when I first read them, I had to read them out loud, and then decipher the words on a separate piece of paper. It’s not that the words were spelled wrong – it’s that there was no “rite” spelling, or was that “wright?” or “write?” People simply wrote how the word sounded, and nearly anything would work. So, to use “ok” to mean all correct was not a big stretch.
It would probably have been a quick fad of a phrase, however, had it not been for the presidential election of Martin Van Buren, who was from Kinderhook, NY, and held the nickname of “Old Kinderhook,” which his supporters shortened to “OK,” and it became a campaign slogan. Even after his election, something far more significant happened that secured “ok” as one of our more used abbreviated words. As the telegraph came into use in 1844, of course it was an expensive form of instant communication – kind of like a phone calling card from the 1970s. In order to make sure a transmission had been properly received, a quick “ok” was sent back to the sender by the receiver – all correct, but it also began to mean simply that it was “ok,” as the little word stood on its own proud feet. We have used it ever since.
I’m fascinated, however, by the ways our word “ok” has been used. Sometimes we respond to someone’s offer or question with great enthusiasm about the future: OK! Sometimes we are unsure: Are you up to this? Ok…. Sometimes it simply sends our willingness to be obedient, even if we are not thrilled about a task or a new experience: Will you turn on the water so I can douse the plants? Ok. (no emotion). Sometimes, it expresses our begrudging attitude: Will you please do this for me just this time? (sigh) OK, if you want. Sometimes, we even use the word to delay something that will eventually happen, like when I’ve opened a pack of shredded cheese, and our four-legged moochers start meowing – I usually say, “Ok, OK! Just a second!” And sometimes, the word is used most closely to the way a telegraph operator uses it: sort of a middle ground kind of assent, with no enthusiasm or regret: Do you understand what I said, or what I want? Ok.
This last paragraph was difficult to write, because it required me to explain in writing what is best explained face to face. We even have a smart little cat named Hermes, and for his entire life, he excelled in numbers of ways of “talking” as a cat. For years, when he knows he has to wait for something, he will “say” over and over again what sounds like “ma-kow.” Not meow, or mew, or howling or trying to wake different members of the house up in the morning – no, it’s “ma-kow,” which in my imagination is his attempt to repeat what I say: Ok, Ok, with a higher pitched voice. I’m pretty sure Hermes understands the word.
I’m also pretty sure that the word, ok, is perhaps one of the topmost misunderstood words in our language. Because it is a connector between a statement and a response, and because the only way it best presents our emotion in our response is by using different inflections of our voice, if we aren’t careful, both as senders and receivers, we can quickly mess our language up, and interchanges like, “Well, you said ok!” “I know I said that, but you should have known it wasn’t really ok – just sort of ok, and my wishing that you would done something different! I didn’t give permission – I just gave an answer.”
Anyone who believes they have learned language, whatever that language, once and for all, and now understand everything someone else says is most likely fooling themselves, or have taken a lazy path of communicating – or they have chosen to speak by accident, blindly hoping that what they heard and what they say are perfectly transmitted. There is always time to ask one more question, however, which helps to define “ok” more precisely, more completely, and more effectively. That only happens, however, if we choose to be intentional about what we hear and what we say, instead of barging forward with self-centered assumptions. Take the exercise of today to be sure you listen, and be sure you respond so that the one you are engaged with in this world can rely and trust your own words to speak the clear and clean truth – ok?
Word for the day: Kakistocracy. We have democracy, the rule of the people, and aristocracy, the rule of the elite, and even theocracy, rule by the clergy, but the troublesome is today’s word, which means “rule by the worst.” Kakistos is the superlative for the Greek word, “bad,” so it is really super-bad, and cracy means “rule by, or rule of.” Depending on your political stance, you could name the kakistocracies you have experienced in your own life. Many would agree that Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Pol Pot’s Cambodia and Idi Amin’s Uganda regime would truly rank as kakistocracies of the first order. Simply terrible individuals with the freedom to do terrible things to their own people, and to not care while doing so – that’s kakistocracy in motion. A wise person once wrote, “If you want to avoid a kakistocracy, stand between what is so bad, and your fellow citizens. At least vote!”
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.