It’s Not OK To Write ok

It’s Not OK To Write ok

It’s very simple: you have two choices if you want to say something is okay. You can spell out the word in full (okay), or you can use capital letters (OK). What’s unacceptable is to write ‘ok’ in lower case.

Thumb chums picture from Shutterstock

The main reason for this is pronunciation. The word ‘ok’ on its own would, by the standards of regular English, be pronounced to rhyme with ‘cock’. Using ‘okay or ‘OK’ make it clear what you’re supposed to say. Yes, I know, there are countless examples of English words whose spelling gives no clue whatsoever as to how to pronounce them, but that’s all the more reason not to add to their number.

While we no longer think of it as an acronym, OK did originate that way: it was an abbreviation for ‘orl korrect’, itself a jokey misspelling used in the US back in the nineteenth century. The joke is long-forgotten and many of us favour the spelt-out version, but it’s still OK to use the acronym if you wish.

If you really want the lower-case version, put fullstops in it (‘o.k.’). Accuracy matters.

Lifehacker’s Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing.


    • I’m worried that if I write OK, people will think I’m shouting.
      Or is this shouting OK!!!!1!!1!!111!!

      • I just received a email today and I read OK as yelling. Changed the entire tone of the email.

        • ok, I’d have to say; I was quite surprised to open this article after so long on the front page and find so few people giving the middle finger to Angus.

  • OK, Angus. But where does Mind Your Language stand on “kk”, then? Is it OK to use kk, or must it also be KK? Is “k.k.” better than “ok”, or is neither okay?

  • I wonder what Shakespeare would say about all this grammar facsism? He made up words and mis-spelled them like a mofo (MOFO, Mow Faux)

    • English spelling was much less standardised in the Elizabethan era, and a healthy proportion of people weren’t even literate. It doesn’t follow that turning back the clock would be helpful in an era where literacy is a much more important skill economically.

      • So, it was fine then – but now – suddenly because it’s “modern” times, it’s some infallible, immutable standard?

        Who cares. Communication has changed over time since.. Well.. Forever.. The puritans who seem to arbitrarily decide “Yes, this is the correct moment to live this way forever.” are the ones who always invariably are forced to move as culture does.

  • Would have to disagree here – there are countless acronyms that through common use have been absorbed into the English language as a word in their own right, and no longer capitalised.

    for example: kg, km, cm, rpm, mph, kph; and one of my favourites – laser

    • Don’t think those examples prove anything. The first group are all measurements, which is a separate issue. And the key point with laser (unlike ok) is that how you pronounce it is clear in a lower-case form. (Not sure that laser was ever all-caps either, but that’s not germane to the issue at hand.)

      • True – poor choice due to being short on time, but there are others, like radar and scuba; however, I take your point that these are pronounced how they are spelt.

        That aside, English is a fluid language, and as long as the people write ‘ok’, then it will be OK to use it in that form.

        Sadly, the same applies to words like irregardless and other inanities.

    • You picked some unfortunate examples of measurement units there.
      They are all meant to be lower case.
      Some examples of units that require mixed case are:
      kJ (kilojoules), Nm (Newton meters), mA (milliamps), Gl (Gigalitres), kPA (kilopascals), GWh (GigaWatt hours)

      • Yours also has a small error where it is kPa.

        The correct notation rules are that all units with the exception of units named after people.

        Prefix scales are odd where all units equal to or less that 1000 are lower case and all units above are capital letters.

        • Oh! This is much better than a plain old boring Grammar Nazi.

          A column for SI Nazis is far more fun to watch.

  • i think this is one of them situations where the “slang” word/use has become so widespread its almost the way to use it, in text meant for those who use english naturally everyday seeing ok will never cause confusion, if anything seeing the capitalised OK would lead to the impression of yelling that caps leads to.

    of course in texts meant for global digestion or professional documents the full okay should be used anyway

    • I don’t have a strong preference with spelt really — but given my previous pronouncements, you’re right, I might be better off changing that.

    • I don’t have a strong preference with spelt really — but given my previous pronouncements, you’re right, I might be better off changing that.

  • I would add that it’s also not OK to publish articles that appear to have been Google Translated from some other language and then disable commentary on the post. Very demotivational.

  • How is this a lifehack? I am getting rather tired of the watered down writing presented on this site.

    • Lifehacker covers how to do things better. Within that framework, Mind Your Language covers how to write accurately. (Also: watered-down.)

      • Looks like you have to put that in big bold red text at the top people always moan about it.

        Or if someone tries to post “how is this a lifehack” comment dont let them post and automatically tell them that response.

  • So when I say “OK” how do you know if I mean “okay” or I’m referring to “Oklahoma”?

  • Of all of the words ending in “-ock”, you had to choose “cock”, didn’t you? 😛

    It’s not as if you had a lack of other choices…rock, sock, lock, mock, dock…

  • Holycrap!!! I forgot how to spell OKAY in full for the last ten years…I’ve been coasting on OK…

  • At the risk of sounding so yesterday, who made Angus the suppository of all grammatical wisdom?

  • I disagree that it has stopped being an acronym. Furthermore, I would argue that “ok” is acceptable because it is the abbreviated form of the neologism “okay”, and the only concession is that it should have a full-stop on the end, as in “My boss gave me the ok. for the work to go ahead”, to denote its abbreviated status. But we can all see how stupid that looks.

    It falls into a similar quandary to “i.e.”, “e.g.” and “re:” in routinely having punctuation incorrectly applied.

  • What I would like to know is why my wife thinks that the last word in this line should be the odd one out:
    pays, rays, gays, lays, cays, days, says (i.e. pron. sezs)

  • “The main reason for this is pronunciation” – Are you trying to argue that there’s some sort of standard for pronunciation in English?
    Chat/Chute/Yacht, Bologna, Liquorice, Colonel… These are all words people see and know how to say, and the meaning I’m try to convey, despite their spelling. When someone writes ok, it is “clear what you’re supposed to say”, in the exact same way as these examples, and every other word in my post… from learning the word.
    A proscriptive approach to language has it’s place; when the semantic meaning, or ease of reading is jeopardised. I don’t think ok verses OK is one of these situations.

    • I notice you’re entirely ignoring the rest of the paragraph, which acknowledges the issues with pronunciation while suggesting there’s no need to make them worse. As other commenters have suggested, in formal contexts “okay” is a better choice than the other versions.

      Also: “has its place”, and in language circles it’s more common to speak of a “prescriptive” approach rather than a “proscriptive” one (while I am proscribing certain written forms, “prescriptive grammar” is the usual term).

      • Thanks for the reply Angus. Yes, you’re totally right that I managed to ignore the second half of your paragraph, where you did indeed acknowledge this issue (I guess by the time I’d read through the comments I should have re-red the OP before replying).

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