Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The First Word Spoken on the Moon Owes a Debt to “Old Kinderhook”!

The First Word Spoken on the Moon Owes a Debt to “Old Kinderhook”!

In Houston, they say the first word spoken on the moon was “Houston.” As Neil Armstrong said, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” But in New York, and especially in Kinderhook, we know differently.

In the late 1830s a verbal fad emerged from Boston. Using comically misspelled words and their initials, a common phrase such as “no use” became “know yuse” or “K.Y.”; “no go” became “know go” or “K.G.”; “enough said” became “nuff said” or “N.S.” Like all fads, this one died, with one notable exception.

The use of “O.K.” for “oll korrekt,” a comic misspelling of “all correct,” first appeared in the Boston Morning Post of March 23, 1839 and was soon picked up by other newspapers.

The use of "O.K." would have been another short-lived fad except for the 1840 presidential campaign. Martin Van Buren, a native of Kinderhook, New York, ran for re-election as President of the United States during a weak economy that many blamed on him. To bolster his image, his campaign recalled “Old Hickory,” the nickname of the popular former president, Andrew Jackson, and called Van Buren “Old Kinderhook.”

Not coincidentally, “Old Kinderhook” shared the same initials as the trending “O.K.”, and “OK Clubs,” supporting Old Kinderhook’s candidacy, abounded. “Old Kinderhook” was “OK.”

The opposing candidate, William Henry Harrison, turned this to his own advantage by using “OK” to denigrate Van Buren, calling him “Out of Kash,” “Orfully Konfused,” and “Orful Katastrophe.” Harrison won in a landslide.

Propelled by the presidential campaign, “OK” soon became entrenched in American English and has since been adopted by many languages. Arguably, it is the most popular word in the world.

As for the first word spoken on the moon, listen carefully to the recorded voices of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong as the Eagle approaches the moon. You will hear Buzz Aldrin say, “contact light” (at 0:39), meaning the 67-inch probe beneath the lunar lander contacted the surface and, four seconds later, “OK, engine stop,” meaning the Eagle came to rest on the lunar surface and the engine was turned off.

“Old Kinderhook” would be proud.

Note: This much-abbreviated history of “OK” is in debt to Columbia University Professor of English, Allen Walker Read, who published a series of six articles on the subject in American Speech in 1963 and 1964. His research was summarized and expanded by Allan Metcalf in his 2012 book, OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word.

For details of the first lunar landing, see the Apollo 11 Lunar Surface Journal, For high-definition video and audio recordings, see Moonscape

Use of the "Old Kinderhook" historical marker is courtesy of Christopher Kline, author of O.K. – The Musical.

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