In the home of someone who was a keen gardener and maker of jams, marmalade, pickles and chutney, it was odd to find a bottle of manufactured sauce. Perhaps it was because my grandmother had come from Chiswick in west London that she was happy to buy OK, a sauce that was made by George Mason and Company at their Chelsea factory.

Being a child who avidly read everything available, I would read the labels of things on the table and was always intrigued by the label of the OK bottle.  I remember that it said that OK was a term that was used by one of Indian tribes. It was fascinating for a small boy that the sauce from London that we used with bacon and sauages might have had a name from such an exotic source.

A search of the web revealed that the memory was not one that had been imagined. The Alamy site says:

Mason’s ‘OK’ sauce bottle, c. 1915. This condiment was made by  in London, England. Its contents are described as piquant, appetising, pure and of ‘digestive merit. It is possibly the first product to appropriate the American abbreviation OK. On the side of the bottle is explained that the derivation of the acronym OK is from the Choctaw native American ‘Oke’ or ‘Hoke’ meaning ‘it is so’ and a play on the abbreviation letters of ‘all correct’ (‘orl korrect’). The term’s popularity is credited to President Andrew Jackson who used ‘OK’ extensively in his presidential campaign of 1828.

The sense of need to verify the childhood memory arose from a radio feature that suggested the term “OK” was first published on this day in 1839, in the Boston Morning Post, and simply derived from the misspelling of “all correct.”

The source of “OK” seems more nuanced than either the sauce bottle or the radio feature would suggest. The History website suggests that the term gained popularity as part of the political banter of the time and had arisen from a fashion among younger people to deliberately misspell words. It concludes, “whatever its origins, “OK” has become one of the most ubiquitous terms in the world, and certainly one of America’s greatest lingual exports.”

My grandmother was not a woman who would have thought “OK” was an appropriate term to use in conversation. Perhaps she thought it was too much associated with the American servicemen whom she thought were loud and brash. OK was less obtrusive on a sauce bottle.

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2 Responses to OK?

  1. Doonhamer says:

    You have reminded me of the joy of label reading.
    The HP Sauce bottle was my first introduction to French – Cette sauce de haute qualite est un melange de fruit orienteaux. – etc. from memory of over 60 years ago.
    And a spiced pickle jar, makers name forgotten, proclaimed that the recipe was the responsibility of one, Monockjee Punjiajee of Bombay. What a wonderful name. Probably as likely as the back story about Bonnie Prince Charlie on bottles of Drambuie.

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