The Okayest President … literally.
Martin Van Buren, the eighth President of the United States, had a fairly forgettable time in the White House, but he is responsible for a word that has far outlived him and his legacy as chief executive. Van Buren, as the story goes, is responsible for the word, ‘okay.’
During his bid for a second term as president in 1840, Van Buren’s campaign searched for a gimmick or nickname for the president to help boost his appeal. The settled name was “Old Kinderhook,” a reference to Van Buren’s hometown of Kinderhook, New York. The president’s supporters around the country developed “OK Clubs,” which attempted to rally support for their candidate. The principle was to establish the idea that Old Kinderhook, or OK, was “all correct.”
Wait, why would people associated “OK” with “all correct?” Because, apparently, some newspapers at the time had developed a quirky form of shorthand that purposely used misspelled items like “oll korrect” and abbreviated them. Apparently, 19th century Americans developed a strange fascination with abbreviations, but considering 21st century America’s obsession with LOL, I don’t suppose I can throw too many rocks.
So, America was supposed to associated Old Kinderhook Martin Van Buren with “all correct.” Except it didn’t happen. Critics of Van Buren connected him to his predecessor and political ally, Andrew Jackson, who notoriously lacked any formal education (and apparently any spelling skills). Newspaper editors mocked Jackson, claiming he signed all his presidential papers “OK” because he thought it meant “ole kurrek.”
It probably didn’t help matters that Van Buren’s first language was Dutch. In the end, voters didn’t seem to think much of Van Buren or that he was ‘okay’ because they went with “Tippacanoe and Tyler, too.”