In honor of the 183rd anniversary of the first-ever appearance in print of O.K. (in The Boston Morning Post) I am here to start an internet copyediting war. As you can see, the original “O.K.” was very clearly an acronym, in this case of “oll korrect,” a popular slang misspelling of “all correct” (we can probably blame this on the teens of the era). As with most language that drifts into common usage, the origins of O.K. slowly receded from collective awareness and the word began to assume different shapes and sizes: the slightly more streamlined and dashing OK; the drawling and onomatopoetic okay; the abrupt and minimalist ok. (Who knows, maybe mmmkay will achieve formal status one day.)
So what is a copyeditor to do? One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from an old alt-weekly copyeditor at a bar, who didn’t really prescribe to this fixed style or that, but rather believed first and foremost in the “ugly rule.” He held (correctly) that language and its rules are slippery and ever-changing, and that convention and usage should always supersede institutional formality. So, within that admittedly wild and wooly ethos he came up with the Ugly Rule, which privileges the reader’s eye above all else, and seeks to minimize typographical distractions (in practical terms, the New Yorker’s truly eccentric insistence on diacritics is a direct and egregious violation of the rule). He also believed that words, over time, tended to shed their size: compound hyphens disappeared, capitalization faded, and spaces closed up. Hence to-day became today, Band-Aid became band-aid, and (thank god) Web site is becoming website; and if these contractions were inevitable, why not just get in early?
Can you see where I’m going with this?
This is why, as an editor, I prefer ok to OK or okay. Why fight it? Why waste the extra ink?