Sunday, July 31, 2011

It's not OK, okay?

"Every writer has a crutch s/he relies on too much, whether that is a particular word, phrase, or punctuation mark--sort of the literary equivalent of comfort food." - Debra Ginsberg, in her editorial report

OK, fine.  She's right; I've seen it before.  I've even exhibited said crutches, myself.  Heck, I was up till 2:00 am last night fixing the ugliest of the pimples she found in Cataclysm: the word OK. 

Now, OK can be spelled absolutely correctly as two letters, or it can become a four-letter word.  I say that with a bit of my tongue in my cheek, because last night it certainly did morph into a four-letter word in a couple of ways.  I'll discuss the spelling first and then talk about the whole crutch thing, OK?

Urgh.  How do you spell one of the most common words in the English language, especially when sometimes it's not even a word?  The Wikipedia site on the issue holds well over a dozen ways to spell the juxtaposition of two separate sounds: Oh and Kay.  There's OK, okay, O.K., and several others.  Geez, it shouldn't be this hard.  O.K. is, in my opinion, right out; it treats the word as an acronym when it's really not.  Yes, I'm dismissing what I consider a shaky etymological reference to 'Oll Korrect,' which is suggested as a clever misspelling that was popular in 1838 in Boston.  Allen Walker Read found written evidence that a group of people in that area of the nation in that time frame gained enjoyment from misspelling phrases and making the misspellings into--um, misacronyms.  Yeah, I'm not buying it.  This has become one of the most common words in our language, and its use has spread to several other languages, and I'm to believe that it came from a localized fad for misspellings?  Nah.

That leaves OK and okay as the two common choices.  My editor, Debra Ginsberg, says okay is the spelling that her books have been edited to use, and thus it's the preferred one for publishers.  Another editor I found on the web, Thomas McAllister, very strongly states that OK is his preferred method, and he can't understand why anybody would use the other way (  Near as I can tell, his credentials and Debra's are nearly identical.  Debra's my editor and he's not, though, so I'm going with her ruling on the matter.  Purdue's OWL, meanwhile, seems to back her up, and I've always used that site as the definitive reference to all things linguistic.  I can't find reference to the specific spelling question on their site, but a site search does find a great many instances of the word there, and every single time it's spelled okay. 

Grammatically, then, I was clear on what I had to do.  Technically, it ain't that easy.  Word's Replace feature is wonderful for direct replacements, especially those where capitalization matters.  For example, it's easy to tell it to replace all instances of "ok" with "okay," but that grabs everything and makes us end up with words like smokaye instead of smoke.  The characters had all spokayen about it, and it's bad.  Oof.  Thus, I used the Match Case option on the "OK" search, fired the global Replace up, and blew it.  Yes, it worked for only finding specifically the use of the word OK, but it changed every instance to okay.  The advantage of using the letters OK is that they're always capitalized--but not so with the word okay.  okay, then, that was a problem.

I ended up having to go manually through each instance of the word, checking for whether it should be capitalized or not.  There were well over a hundred instances.  Which, by the way, leads to the next problem: the crutch.

Okay, in real life's conversation, how many sentences do you start with okay?  Is your response to everything a big, exciting, "Okay"?  Nah, not mine, either.  Yet I had written entire passages where every character had the over-okay affliction going on.  Urgh. 

Why didn't I catch this myself?  I have no idea.  I guess there's some truth to the suggestion that sometimes it requires someone else to point out the dirt on our own face.  Thankfully, in any event, I have an editor who pointed it out, and I fixed it for the most part.  I did leave some okays in, of course.  Sometimes it was the right thing to say, okay?  I did, however, manage to whittle the number of appearances down to just over fifty, and that felt--well, okay. 

Off to work.  Have a great day! 


  1. I've read plenty of books on writing fiction and creative writing, and one of the things that's repeated, and was highlighted in a blog post by Joe Konrath a week or so ago, was being deliberate. Something like the antidote to your crutch, or any crutch; read through your work and ask yourself, what's the purpose of that word? What does that do for the reader? Is that word necessary?

    Of course, I recommend reading his blog to get more information on that. It wouldn't feel right lifting it, and I don't have the right words to phrase it myself.

  2. Thank you, Joseph. That's a fine blog, and I was glad to subscribe to it despite his warning that I shouldn't spend my time reading it. He's right, too, in both the post that you refer to and the one I do. A writer should spend time writing, not reading, except that there are some business things that a writer must always do. Also, a writer should write deliberately. Personally, I love the way he starts his blog: "Don't write crap." That's something I would say, said the same way I would say it. There's a balance to be had there, too, though--one I plan to blog more about later. In any event, that's a great reference you gave me. Thank you!