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Monday, March 29, 2010

This ad intrigues me for reasons you'd probably never guess.

F.C.L.N.O. - M. received, all OK; silent for want of means; will endure anything for you. Can't you trust me? Darling, let me write; I suffer death when I do not hear from you. Come nearer, pearl.

I know, I know, typical sad love note. "Will endure anything for you"; "I suffer death when I do not hear from you"; where do these people come up with this stuff? But, although I do find ads like this one endlessly fascinating for the melodrama and romances, it's something else altogether that interests me.

This is to my recollection, one of the very, very few instances where I've seen "OK" used in an ad. In fact, I can't remember a single other time I've seen this, or any other variation of it, but I'm sure there must have been, so I hesitate to say "only." In any event, it definitely, definitely stands out. The word "okay" was in use by the mid-19th century, but by no means to the degree that it's used today. Actually, I think the fact that I never see this appear in ads is pretty significant. We all abbreviate as much as possible, especially in the age of texting and Twitter; it saves space and - when you're printing advertisements at so much per line - money. So you'd expect to see it all the time back then as a way to keep ads as short as possible.

But you don't. Instead you see, "all right," or "all is well," or phrases like that, which say the exact same thing but are much longer and could rack up the cost of an ad. I flatter myself that I am probably the most knowledgeable person in the history of 19-century American personal ads, a small niche, I know, but nevertheless - I claim it. So when I say that I feel pretty conclusively that "okay" or "OK" was not a term in wide use at the time, based on the fact that neither one ever shows up in personals, I think I'm probably right. Luckily, I'm not writing my dissertation on the history of language, so I don't actually have to prove that. But it's a fair guess. So that's interesting to me, because this ad dates from near the turn of the 20th century by which time - according to Wikipedia - "okay" had become popularized. Well I, for one, beg to differ. But don't expect me to say that anyplace where I have to provide real conclusive evidence. Thank heaven for blogs where I can just make stuff up as I go.


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