O.K. is rude

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Caity Weaver, "Typing These Two Letters Will Scare Your Young Co-Workers: Everything was O.K. until you wrote 'O.K.'", NYT 11/21/2019, starts with a note from someone in Queens:

I am a Gen X-er who generally speaks proper English and am a "digital native." (Hey, kids: We built these tools that you claim as your own.) When I respond to a text or email with "O.K.," I mean just that: O.K. As in: I hear you, I understand, I agree, I will do that. If I reply with "K," I'm just being more informal.

However, I have been informed by my Millennial and Gen Z co-workers that the new thing I'm supposed to type is "kk." To write "O.K." or "K," they tell me, is to be passive-aggressive or imply that I would like the recipient to drop dead. To which I am tempted to respond, "Believe me, if I want you to drop dead … you'll know."

I find "kk" loathsome. Are my co-workers being overly sensitive, or am I not acknowledging the nuance of modern communication? I would really like to settle this debate once and for all. O.K.?

Ms. Weaver's reponse:

Kk.

Unfortunately, the hot and precocious young people who meme'd you this are dead right.

You reply to an email with "O.K.": For the briefest twinkling, I think "Rude."

You reply to an email with "K": For one terrible millisecond, I think (sobbing and feeling attacked), "He's acting like he's the only one who's stressed out!"

You reply to an email with "kk": I think "O.K."

This is a kind of meaning-drift that I don't think we've discussed before — and one that I don't understand yet.

We've had several posts about "semantic bleaching", which is a natural result of information theory combined with some plausible assumptions about language production and perception — but this evolution of "O.K." is more like "pragmatic staining".

The "euphemism treadmill" moves words in a negative direction, but there's no euphemism involved here.

This is a bit like the interpretation of periods as aggressive or portentous — but there's an obvious explanation for that, in that the sender might have chosen to leave the final punctuation out, and therefore their choice to add it must be given some interpretation, by the Gricean Maxim of Quantity.

But "kk" is exactly the same length as "ok" — the discussion doesn't suggest that "O.K." has a different tone than "OK" or "ok".

So some new process is involved. Maybe it's a random drift towards the ironic or grudging end of "O.K." usage? If so, are there other current examples of similar movement?

Anyhow this adds an extra edge to the "OK boomer" insult.

 

 

 

 



81 Comments »

  1. Keith said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 3:47 pm

    meh

    kthnxbai

  2. dafydd said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 3:56 pm

    What does it say about this GenX'er who types

    Okay.

    ?

    ;-)

  3. pamela said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 4:07 pm

    this is hazing –marginalization and intimidation of some users by others who assign covert negative inferences to common practices. okay, OK. o.k. are all natural targets, as they were universally used. the same with the universal and by more or less ancient hand signal for okay, which is now construed as obscene or as fascist. the population of established users cannot be permitted to rest easy in their conventions. they must be "disrupted" by the imputation of surprising and contrived shaming.

  4. pamela said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 4:09 pm

    I think I should say reverse hazing, assuming that hazing means the intimidation of newcomers by some in situ group. this is the opposite.

  5. Mike K said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 4:16 pm

    (born in the late 80s here) to me "kk" has a slight… exuberance to it (saying it in a dour tone just doesn't work). Similarly, if you reply with "ok!" it robs it of most of the negative connotations that can come through with "ok".

    An adjacent issue is punctuation: "ok" and "ok." are different, with the latter being much more ominous.

    Using "lol" is now old-fashioned, marking someone as being born in the early 90s at the latest. I think these sorts of conventions and usages have a half-life of around 5-10 years at this point.

  6. mg said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 4:18 pm

    This is ridiculous! If your generation wants to ascribe new meanings to words, have at it among yourselves. You don't get to tell older people that words that have always been find have suddenly been ascribed new nuances by your peers. Unless it's a word or phrase that comes from a racist/ethnic/gender slur, old words get to live on.

    And since when do the youngsters in a workplace get to tell off their elders like that?

  7. Aaron said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 4:20 pm

    @pamela: I believe the 'ok' hand sign being claimed as a white supremacist gesture began as a hoax/large-scale practical joke, so the motive you suggest could be valid in that case. But where is the evidence that written 'ok'/'k' being interpreted as hostile is anything but an innocent shift in usage across generations? Semantics change. We know this to be a natural process, do we not? Purporting it to be some kind of intentional, coordinated "shaming" of older speakers frankly sounds like a conspiracy theory.

  8. IMarvinTPA said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 4:21 pm

    I think my response would have been a dry "O. K." to that explanation.

  9. MattF said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 4:25 pm

    It lets a younger generation irritate and confuse an older generation. What's not to like?

  10. Amy W said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 4:36 pm

    (35-year-old American English speaker)
    With capital letters and periods? Surely "ok" comes across differently than "O.K." I would never type kk in an email, but I would type k in a text or perhaps messenger app. Don't most people use emails only professionally these days? I have a hard time imagining sending an email shorter than "Okay, thanks!"

  11. Haamu said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 4:46 pm

    Isn't there (or shouldn't there be) some law of semiotics that observes that any expression of approval or agreement has the potential to be used sarcastically, and therefore will be, and therefore will eventually take on negative connotations?

    Good luck, Millennials, keeping "kk" semantically pure. I'd predict that your kids will someday be derisively texting "kk Millennial!" — but, on second though, they probably won't. Instead they'll be communicating nonlinguistically on globally linked neuroimplants. And then someday their kids, in turn, will be complaining to them that exogenous dopamine surges are sarcastic and shouldn't be used. And on it will go…

  12. GeorgeW said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 5:04 pm

    I could not use "kk," it sounds very baby-talkish to me. (I am slightly pre-boomer)

  13. Haamu said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 5:06 pm

    Thought #2: The loveliness of this really needs to be called out:

    You reply to an email with "kk": I think "O.K."

    It reminds me of when the inventor of the GIF file format, accepting a lifetime achievement award, attempted to settle the undying controversy by explaining (in writing) that it wasn't pronounced "GIF."

  14. Haamu said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 5:31 pm

    Thought #3 (and then I promise I'll stop):

    The thing that really puzzles me about this (as it did with the don't-use-a-period issue) is that Millennials are routinely observed to be far more "inclusive" than previous generations, and to have a far broader and deeper concept of what social inclusion really means. And yet so many of them are, apparently, all too willing to adopt exclusionary linguistic precepts — including (1) There's One Right Way to express an idea, and (2) the semantic intent, situational motives, and cultural context of the speaker don't need to be considered; all that matters is how I receive the message.

    This seems to be one data point suggesting that linguistic prescriptivism may be more resilient than other forms of exclusionary behavior.

  15. Gene said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 5:37 pm

    Would the extenuation of an insult be KKK?

  16. Matty said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 6:11 pm

    I am given to understand that the old-fashioned "okay" sign is now a white supremacist covert salute.

  17. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 6:33 pm

    That "kk" has the same number of syllables as "OK" (and is therefore not more "efficient") is I think the result of a two-step process. Step One – clip OK down to 'k (because clipping is a standard way of signaling slangy informality). Step Two — reduplicate the result (because reduplication is another standard way of signaling slangy informality). So you end up, in terms of syllable count, right back where you started. The transformation of the first name of Taylor Swift, whom I am given to understand is some sort of musician popular with The Young People Today, into Taytay (Tay Tay? TayTay? Not sure if the orthography is completely standardized …) is another example of the same two-step process.

  18. john burke said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 6:46 pm

    Okily dokily, neighbor!

  19. Peter S. Shenkin said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 10:03 pm

    Be careful with where this is going. Pretty soon it'll have to be KKK.

  20. SlideSF said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 10:12 pm

    To this boomer (though with many younger friends and e-correspondents), OK sounds somewhat curt, though by no means insulting. K seems even more perfunctory though. KK is what I might use only if being flirtatious., perhaps followed by an emoji. This is all for personal communication. I don't know what goes for business emails, but it seems to me that the rules would depend on the type of business – the more "disruptive" it is, the more the youngsters get to call the shots.

  21. Ray said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 10:17 pm

    I just use "ow ow kay"

    problem solved. no one can touch this, right?

    ow ow kay, carry on.

  22. Oop said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 10:42 pm

    The hand sign's (supposed) ironic origin has now become an incentive for it's use by Nazi politicians, as it comes with deniability already attached. These days, they LOVE deniability. It is part of an asymmetric communication strategy, close to dog whistling: first, use a controversial sign in public, then, deny it's connotations in public, and finally, have a laugh with their supporters on the public's expense, whether it believes their denial (well, we know what I really meant) or not (those fools don't understand irony). As a game strategy, it's a play that can't be lost.

    Luckily, they haven't really got to the written version (yet).

  23. Viseguy said,

    November 27, 2019 @ 11:24 pm

    My "WTFkk?" of a minute ago was evidently too pithy for the comment engine. But I repeat: WTFkk?

  24. cameron said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 12:07 am

    I'm a gen-xer and a digital native as well. I don't think I've ever seen "O.K.", with both caps and dots, in normal usage. If I ever did, I probably suppressed the memory due to its bizarreness and incongruity.

    It's OK, or Ok, or ok. No need for dots.

    "kk" would be hopelessly twee.

  25. Chas Belov said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 12:44 am

    I know tone is hard to tell in email or text but, OMG, how prescritivist.

  26. Meg Wilson said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 2:30 am

    I think Haamu's first comment is exactly right. This seems like the same process as what happened to "bless your heart" in the American south.

  27. Nelson Goering said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 2:44 am

    Any indication about the exact generational cutoff, or variation in social circles? I am, by the usual reckoning, a precisely average Millennial by age (born in the late 80s). I would never write kk in an email, and would be astonished to read it in one. To me, it's part of the register of chat or text only.

  28. G Davis said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 3:31 am

    This seems more like a Gen-Z innovation that more "hip" millennials picked up on, hence the lack of universal recongnition (as much as any slang can be universal) by millennials. As someone of the former generation, "kk" sounds very informal, and is a marked variant compared to the usual casual version "k". As to whether the capitalization of "OK/ok" changes the meaning, to me there is a negligible difference. The capitalized form feels slightly more formal and appropriate for a business email, but as far as I know the uncapitalized variant would not be out of place in that context. It's the addition of periods that adds a passive aggressive implication, as that punctuation has come to be used in text messages among ourselves, and perhaps more importantly, by many of our parents when communicating with us/.

    As to the point raised above about "kkk" as the logical next step, it is already used in this sense by those who can be identified most properly as "edgelords." Those who want to avoid that form while still conveying exasperation use longer variants, e.g. "kkkk".

  29. Philip Taylor said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 4:05 am

    First, a confession : I have no idea to what age group "Generation X", "Generation Z", etc., refer, nor do I have the slightest idea what analogous term would apply to those (such as myself) who are in their early 70s. As to punctuation, I normally write plain "OK" and punctuate according to location and sense, but find nothing odd about "O.K." and see that others use it frequently (real-life example from a regular correspondent : "Tuesday mornings are a problem for me but I could do Thursday 25th. I have a doctors appointment in Wadebridge at 09.50 but should be O.K. for 10.30").

    I would go on to add that I have never sent or received an e-mail containing either "k" or "kk", and were I to receive one, I would initially assume a typo. and then, if assured that it was intentional, be as confused as I was when I first read "my bad" where "bad" was intended as a substantive and not as an adjective. And I have no intention whatsoever of adding "k" or "kk" to my vocabulary, regarding them both as ridiculous affectations.

  30. Leo said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 4:23 am

    I didn't think Generation X-ers and digital natives overlapped. The correspondent from Queens doesn't give their age, but to me digital natives passed their entire (or almost entire) childhood after home internet and mobile phones became ubiquitous. This means they were born in the 90s or later. Should I be pushing those dates back earlier?

  31. Jeff DeMarco said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 4:33 am

    Somebody better tell the young Chinese that they are white supremacists! They have many cute emojis for OK in WeChat, and they use the letters routinely.

  32. Paul Turpin said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 4:38 am

    I first saw Kk being used about ten years ago, so it ain't particularly new. I suppose it has something about it to have survived.

  33. Victor Mair said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 5:33 am

    As Jeff DeMarco pointed out, OK is OK in China. Note that lots of people are using the hand sign too.

  34. Barry Cusack said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 6:37 am

    Isn't this just "clubbing"? That is, defining a new club, or in-group, and promoting its badges. The badge of this latest in-group is the correct use of kk etc.
    Obviously, defining ever-narrower in-groups, and going to war with the out-groups, is socially and morally questionable. But deliberately chosen language usage is one way of doing this, for those who want to.
    This boomer is signing off now: k sarà.

  35. GeorgeW said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 7:02 am

    FWIW, the Apple Watch message app, has a list of standard replies that one can quickly select to reply to a text message. There are a number options such as 'thanks!,' 'sure!,' 'no problem!,' etc. The only variant of this available is 'OK (with no punctuation).'

  36. Rube said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 8:12 am

    As usual when I read something like this, I checked with my 19-year-old son. He responded:
    "Yeah, it can certainly be, not universally, but it certainly can indicate that you're pissed. Especially K."

    I asked "And KK is polite?"

    He got back with "Yeah, I'd say so."

    Just FWIW, but some more evidence that this is for real.

  37. Ellen K. said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 9:41 am

    @Amy W
    Yes, some of us do sometimes use emails outside of a work context. Although the original post was about texts and emails both and was about feedback from co-workers, so I assume meant work emails. I do agree with the observation that O.K. and OK or ok are different.

    @J.W. Brewer
    We are talking texts and emails, not speech, so it's not syllables that matter, but characters, or maybe keystokes or the touchscreen equivalent. 'k is no shorter than ok (a form not addressed in the note quoted in the original post), and harder to type on a phone. K, no apostrophe, is the abbreviated form. I do agree with your observation about reduplication though.

    General comments. I'm a 50 year old Gen-X-er. I personally, have never used kk, and very rarely (maybe twice ever) k. I also, though, wouldn't use O.K., I'd use okay, ok, or OK, no periods. And I can definitely imagine O.K. being interpreted as like putting periods after each word for effect.

  38. Charlie said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 9:54 am

    To myself (23, m, UK) the breakdown of "O.K." usage is something like this:

    ok – Neither negative or positive, perfectly neutral.

    OK – Passive aggressive (possibly not passive), capitalisation always adds an aggressive tone to me.

    Okay – Positive and informal.

    o.k. / O.K. – Really has no indication to me other than it being old fashioned, I don't think I've come across this usage in general conversation, I would expect to see it in early 20th century communications.

    kk – Another one I just don't come across often, I recall it being more popular in the MSN era and have a meaning identical with "Okay".

  39. Leo said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 10:44 am

    Maybe millennials should heed the words of Rimmer from Red Dwarf: "No, Lister, 'ok' is never a threat, no matter how many A's you put on the end."

  40. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 11:10 am

    The rise of predictive/auto-complete software seems like it ought to create some sort of weird feedback loop here. If conventions from the earlier age of texting were based on implicit assumptions about what was easier/harder to type (with "harder" thus being deemed deliberate/marked), those assumptions may now have been undermined by how that software operates. On the texting app I use most frequently on my phone, if I type "o" followed by "k" it gives me a tripartate choice among "Ok", "Okay", and "Oklahoma." And at that point each of the three is about as easy to select as the others. (The initial-capitalization may be driven in part by this being the first word in a possible multi-word text. In second-word position the options are "ok", "okay", and "Oklahoma." So if I want to say "Oh Ok" instead of "Oh ok" it's more work.)

  41. John J Chew said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 11:26 am

    I switched from "OK" to around about the time when we added "ok" to the official Scrabble lexicon.

  42. John J Chew said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 11:28 am

    Sorry, that should read:

    I switched from "OK" to U+1F44D U+1F3FD (thumbs up emoji with medium skin tone modifier) around about the time when we added "ok" to the official Scrabble lexicon.

  43. seebs said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 11:40 am

    I'm skeptical that this is by any means universal. I use "'k" (with apostrophe) because that's the sound people I know make as a short affirmation. I don't have any semantic associations with any variants or spellings, I don't think, except that only "okay" is a word that can go in sentences.

    This sounds like a thing where you could easily see the semantic overloading go differently in different social groups. So it's a good idea to be aware that it might have semantics, but I would strongly disrecommend inferring actual communicative intent from choice of spelling on "ok".

  44. Ray said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 12:33 pm

    this all reminds me of this:

    https://beautyinyourhand.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/hahahaha-facebook-timeline-cover-5.jpg

  45. Chas Belov said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 1:26 pm

    Boomer here.

    This is the first I've heard of kk. When my best friend used k to me in a text a few years ago, I had to ask them what they meant. I now only use k with them. We consider it positive.

    I would never type O.K. (except in this comment, of course); I type okay. I once ran into a spell checker that didn't recognize that as an English word.

    If I wanted to be negative, I might say okay-ay-ay (with a falling then rising inflection, no pauses where I wrote a hyphen) but I can't imagine that I would write it that way. And it wouldn't be passive-agressive, but more about uncertainty.

  46. Chas Belov said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 1:44 pm

    Just checked with my friend, also a boomer. They report using k and kk interchangeably and have no sense of OK or okay or k having any negative connotation.

    This was by text. I signed out kthxbye, to which they responded huh. I translated with "okay thank you see you later heart" as I thought "okay thank you goodbye" would be too abrupt.

    I'll note I'm on a flip phone and using emojis is a challenge or impossible.

  47. Chandra said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 3:03 pm

    Gen Xer married to a Millennial. I use "ok" and she uses "kk" and neither of us has any trouble understanding each other's meaning in context.

    "O.K." with the caps and periods looks hopelessly outdated to me.

  48. mg said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 3:24 pm

    I'm in my early 60s with a late 20s son. He uses k (because it's less typing), so I use it with him but not with any of my friends who range from 30s to 70s. With them I use ok (no punctuation because lazy). My son has never used kk and would see it as a sign of wanna-be hip/trendy.

    IMNSHO, being prescriptivist about texting slang is obnoxious, absurd, and twee. And expecting people of a different generation to adhere to your slang is ridiculous.

  49. Mark P said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 5:17 pm

    This reminds me of shirt tail in vs shirt tail out. I'm 69. When I was growing up, men tucked their shirt tail in. I worked in a fairly relaxed environment, but no man ever went to work with his shirt tail out. Ever. So today, as a retired man, I tuck my shirt tail in any time I go out in public. Maybe if I go to the building supply store I might — maybe — wear my T-shirt out. Probably not. Once when shopping at a big box store, a young man working at a kiosk trying to enroll people in cable commented on the fact that I had my knit, short-sleever shirt tucked in. It was not said in a particularly negative way, but there was no way to take it as anything but (at best) condescending. I remember it as rude.

    My attitude towards that particular generational thing is the same as it is for the many uses of OK: It's an interesting observation, but I don't give a FF what they think about what I happen to choose to do.

  50. monscampus said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 10:06 pm

    Is there really no greater problem in this time of cc? Rudeness lies in the eyes of the reader. The word okay has invaded umpteen foreign languages by now. Should they all be forced to switch to double k? (Which sound very childish indeed.) Quite some time ago another American journalist was afraid he could never end an e-mail the right way – warmly, regards or whatever. Everything seemed to be considered rude. It seems everything English may sound uncommonly quaint to some people. Time to communicate in other languages instead?

  51. G Davis said,

    November 28, 2019 @ 11:19 pm

    Having read the original article again, I find that some of the comments left here about the original complainant's younger coworkers being prescriptivist may be unintentionally echoing the words of a biased source. The tone of the original complaint reads more like the writing of someone who is annoyed that they are no longer on the cutting edge of language evolution, and resentful of their younger coworkers' attempts to inform them of the unintentional implications of their word choice in electronic communication. While it is possible that the younger people were in fact the problematic party, I find that the less likely scenario.

  52. Jonathan Dixon said,

    November 29, 2019 @ 12:03 am

    While I agree with G Davis that Haamu's comments about prescriptivism are probably reading a bit much into the situation, the idea does seem vaguely similar to something I think (rightly or wrongly) I've noticed. That is, that the contemporary expectations around being inclusive and accommodating in language that get most vocalised revolve a lot more around speakers/writers considering how the audience (a broad one, at that) will understand the message, than around the audience considering what the speakers/writers intended.

    If this balance is something that has changed over time, I suspect it's relevant that over the last century or so more and more communications have been broadcast to wide audiences.

  53. R. Fenwick said,

    November 29, 2019 @ 12:42 am

    @G Davis: Absolutely. This, from the original complaint, clinches it for me:

    (Hey, kids: We built these tools that you claim as your own.)

    Now that's the cry of the upset-they're-no-longer-the-hip-and-cool-youth if I've ever heard it. The one being prescriptivist here is absolutely the Xer grizzling about the existence of semantic drift, not the Millennials trying to explain how semantic drift is leaving the Xer sounding more curt than they realise and trying to help them move with the inevitable march of meaning.

  54. R. Fenwick said,

    November 29, 2019 @ 1:14 am

    @mg:

    You don't get to tell older people that words that have always been find have suddenly been ascribed new nuances by your peers.

    So you still use "silly" to mean "blessed", do you?

    Actually, yes, that's exactly what people get to do. It's called semantic drift. Older people are not the authorities on what constitutes correct language just through a happy accident of being born earlier; language changes across time are unavoidable, even within an individual's speech, and they're equally unavoidable cross-generationally. Older people have the choice to either move with those changes so that they can ensure their message is getting across, or to stick with what they learned when they were growing up and risk miscommunication.

    Unless it's a word or phrase that comes from a racist/ethnic/gender slur, old words get to live on.

    The word "Negro" does not come from a racist slur, and it did not become one until relatively recently. Are you saying you believe those who learned it as a non-loaded descriptor should be able to continue to do so despite the clear shift in semantics since then?

    Older people grew up in the past, but they do not live there; they live in the present and have to engage with the culture of that present just the same as younger people do.

    And since when do the youngsters in a workplace get to tell off their elders like that?

    Since a great many in society have begun to realise that age on the one hand, and experience, intelligence and wisdom on the other, are not in a one-to-one correlation, and that there are younger people out there with incredible wisdom that they deserve to be able to share unimpeded while there are older people out there who are so deeply ignorant (or stubbornly dismissive) of changing social climate that they'll actually vote for Donald Trump to be President of the United States.

  55. bks said,

    November 29, 2019 @ 7:19 am

    I write my texts in complete sentences with proper orthography and punctuation as a way of getting back at the young. Okay?

  56. Andreas Johansson said,

    November 29, 2019 @ 7:36 am

    So thanks to Chas Belov I learn that "kthx" is supposed to mean "okay, thanks" – for years I'd been assuming it was "kilothanks".

    (Perhaps relevantly, in my native Swedish tusen tack, lit. "(a) thousand thanks" is a common emphatic version of "thanks".)

  57. Philip Taylor said,

    November 29, 2019 @ 8:14 am

    Quoth BKS — "I write my texts in complete sentences with proper orthography and punctuation as a way of getting back at the young".

    I send very few text messages (as few as possible, far preferring to use e-mail and a full-sized keyboard), but for those text messages that I do send, I too compose "in complete sentences with proper orthography and punctuation", not as a way of "getting back at the young" but simply because I am trying to communicate, not trying to impress the intended recipient with my grasp of SMS-speak.

    When I used to send telexes, as part of my duties for Post Office Cable & Wireless Services, they were heavily abbreviated (e.g., "MNY TKS, DR OM"), but I have never felt the need to use such heavy abbreviation since.

  58. BobW said,

    November 29, 2019 @ 10:01 am

    Boomer here. Remember back in the day how cool the old folks were who used then-current slang? Neither do I.

  59. Rosie said,

    November 29, 2019 @ 12:39 pm

    As a 26 yr old UK English speaker I agree almost entirely with Charlie. I would never use O.K. with full stops and would assume the writer is old. 
    I do find that I view OK (and ok to a lesser extent) by itself as somewhat formal and aggressive. I would be happy to use it for plans in a work context but I couldnt just reply OK for fear of seeming rude. I find that when replying to family and stuff I prefer to lengthen it so as not to sound curt (usually to okey dokey with family, okay would be alright too)
    In my head kk reminds me of msn messenger and has a kind of frivolous sense to it. I would only ever use it ironically personally. I can't imagine it being said out loud at all (and using it in a work context never!)

  60. mg said,

    November 29, 2019 @ 3:08 pm

    @R. Fenwick – I talk about older people and you talk about language changes from before I was born?

    You imply that I was saying the younger people need to conform to the older people's expectations. Not at all. What I do expect is for ALL generations to provide some understanding to the others' communication styles. I don't expect my son to use "neat" or "cool"; I do expect him to understand what I'm expressing when I say them, just as I try to understand his new slang or ask him to explain it to me. It's basic courtesy.

    I also don't think I need to adapt every verbal fad that is likely to come and go within a couple of years. If something's around and pretty universally recognized in 5-10 years, then I'll likely adapt it (like using desktop for my computer instead of just the top of my desk).

    @BobW – Exactly!

  61. hors d'oeuvre said,

    November 29, 2019 @ 7:45 pm

    As someone from the tail end of the millennial generation (23, m, US), I'm with Rosie and Charlie here on kk — it makes me think of 2000s-era tweens trying to be "cutesy" on Myspace, or some such. I don't think I've heard anyone of my age group say it anytime recently. Is kk making a comeback among the younger set?

    "O.K." with periods is old-fashioned, but not significantly different from "OK" with no periods. But if I send someone an email and they just reply with "ok", I do think it comes across as a bit dismissive. I tend to use something like "sounds good to me" if I don't have anything to add. On the other hand, "ok, cool" is fine. So it's not like we hate the phrase "ok" or have changed its meaning. It's just not particularly enthusiastic and comes across as dismissive in the same way as a plain "sure" would, for example.

  62. Martha said,

    November 29, 2019 @ 11:50 pm

    I'm an older millennial (36) and completely agree with hors d'oeuvre.

  63. Freddy said,

    November 30, 2019 @ 2:35 am

    I fat thumb "Old Kinderhook", the way Martin Van Buren intended.

  64. DCA said,

    November 30, 2019 @ 12:28 pm

    Solid boomer here. For quite a while, marking my students' math homework, I've used a check for "this is right" and OK for "I think this is right but am not sure I follow". So I understand the "dismissive tone" interpretation, though I wouldn't take OK as a negative. In emails, my preferred positive response is either "fine by me" or "sounds good".

    Perhaps what is going on here is drift in the written meaning, from trying to pack too much into two letters. Spoken, OK can (and does) easily convey exhausted indifference, reluctant agreement, or happy concurrence. In a text, who knows?

  65. Trogluddite said,

    November 30, 2019 @ 2:24 pm

    @DCA: Yes, I think you've hit the nail on the head there. Since texting became commonplace, typed communication has become ever more a substitute for speech, not merely an alternative to handwriting and print. Hence, brevity is highly prized, weakening the traditional expectation that the written word should employ a more formal register, and a "pragmatic vacuum" is left by the absence of prosody and non-verbal cues. When used as a substitute for speech, it's only natural to ask oneself how the writer might have spoken the words in question whenever an ambiguity is encountered.

    "OK" is, as you suggest, particularly productive in this sense. When it is a viable response, a basic acknowledgement is often expected and unremarkable, so the way in which it is said might encode the bulk of what the speaker intends to convey. When considering the many ways in which "OK" might be spoken, there seem far more ways to suggest something ironic or negative than there are to express enthusiasm, and a negative misreading would likely have more serious social consequences than reading it as more enthusiastic than intended. Hence "OK" is easily "pragmatically stained" (I like that neologism!) and the drift is towards marking positive/neutral intent, as insurance against misreading (which marked forms may, in turn, become stained; leading to a treadmill effect.)

    The use of text as an alternative to speech on such a wide scale is still relatively new, but the need to fill the "pragmatic vacuum" will have been obvious to anyone who tried to employ it and was misunderstood .Hence, I don't find it surprising that groups of peers are improvising their own orthographic analogues for prosody and non-verbal cues (just as for emojis/emoticons). Unfortunately, such ad hoc solutions are bound to lead to islands of people using unique "textolects" and bafflement for the uninitiated; however, I think that the primary drivers are clarification and efficiency, not deliberate obfuscation or the creation of shibboleths. Nonetheless, I do find worrying the readiness with which some of these innovators prescribe their "textolect" as the one and only correct form.

  66. Gregg said,

    November 30, 2019 @ 5:11 pm

    My 27-year old American daughter says she used to write kk in the AOL days and still doesn't see anyone over the age of 13 use it. And she texts. A lot. The iPhone automatically suggests "okay" or "Okay" so I'll go for that. I used to use "O.K." a lot and had no idea I was being passive-aggressive–or just plain rude, as my daughter reads "O.K." I'm baffled by this whole brouhaha, frankly. After decades of grading papers, I'm surprised to find out that capitalization, punctuation, and spelling was of much importance at all to the average youngster. But, then, when there are so few characters on view, each carries a lot of emotional baggage, apparently. Texts have always been rather utilitarian to me, a Boomer, but I guess I have a lot to learn.

  67. Keith Ivey said,

    November 30, 2019 @ 11:55 pm

    I assume the periods in "O.K." in the NYT article come from a copyeditor enforcing a style manual, not necessarily from the author.

  68. maidhc said,

    December 1, 2019 @ 11:27 pm

    Accusing someone of being passive-aggressive is an accusation against which there is no defense. If you say "I'm not being passive-aggressive" the response will be "There, you see what I mean? Passive-aggressive!"

    Therefore it is the ideal accusation to focus on someone in an out-group to let them know that they will never become a member of the in-group, no matter what they do.

  69. BZ said,

    December 2, 2019 @ 2:53 pm

    I am either Gen X or Millennial depending on which definition you use. If I texted "k" it would basically mean "why the hell are you telling me this? You should know full well that I couldn't care less!" Just "ok" is neutral to me unless I stick something in there to mark it otherwise (like "ok…").

    As for emails (I still want to write E-Mails because that's what I was used to way back when), I use and expect complete sentences. I mean if all you want to say is "ok" you'd just text me.

  70. Thomas Shaw said,

    December 2, 2019 @ 5:02 pm

    An ethnography of generational differences among languagelog commenters would be fascinating reading, IMO.

    @mg said "I don't expect my son to use "neat" or "cool"; I do expect him to understand what I'm expressing when I say them, just as I try to understand his new slang or ask him to explain it to me. It's basic courtesy."

    I agree. I see no problem with any of the usages for okay/ok/k/kk/OK described above. I do take advantage of specificity to communicate more than assent sometimes. But understanding where usage may be volatile, and clarifying my or adapting to others' usage, is an important social skill. The right answer to the original inquiry is "neither usage is wrong, but you're gonna have to explain to them what you mean".

    I'm 30, US. I find use for most of the forms that have been mentioned here, including k, kk, ok, okay, okayyyy?. Occasionally OK or okey. I also use gotcha, cool, yeah, ya, yah, mhm, mhmm, mmhm, great, and others. I frequently use complete punctuation in texts, and also frequently omit it.

    If I'm writing to a someone I write to often, this all happens without much thought, usually. If it's someone whose internet habits I don't know very well, I try to be extra clear about my intentions, like using words, and look for cues about their usage.

  71. Victor Mair said,

    December 3, 2019 @ 1:58 am

    I'm sitting in the Osaka, Japan airport. There is a little Chinese child dancing around near me merrily saying "OK!", "OK!", "OK!" to anyone and everyone.

  72. Cam said,

    December 3, 2019 @ 3:49 pm

    Whether or not I think "OK" sounds churlish depends on the text I'm responding to. A few days ago my daughter's Chinese teacher sent me a reminder that I needed to send along a check. At first I typed "OK". That looked irritated. "K" seemed sheepish or something. I ended up with "K!" That may have veered too much toward enthusiasm, but felt closer to right.

  73. kalirush said,

    December 3, 2019 @ 4:44 pm

    late Gen-Xer…

    O.K.=super emphatic yelling (or the person is just old and doesn't know how to use technology)
    OK=yelling
    ok=normal
    kk=casual

    I'm not sure how long I've been using "kk" in text communication but it's over a decade, I'm pretty sure. I'm not prescriptive about these things (if someone always used "O.K." I'd know what they meant by it), but that's my initial response to those. I'm well over 13 and was not a tween in the mid-00's so I'm not sure where I picked it up.

  74. JJ said,

    December 3, 2019 @ 5:13 pm

    I haven't read all the comments, but has anyone mused on "AOK" which I think is original to NASA? it's an intensified "OK".

    So in the kk sphere, I suppose the intensified version is "KKK"?

    Oh oops.

    Just askin'

  75. Leila said,

    December 4, 2019 @ 5:55 am

    Nobody who emails me these days is under 40. So I have no problem replying OK. Everyone else uses Whatsapp. And they get a thumbs up emoji. [But do tell me :) if that could be misinterpreted]

  76. James Kabala said,

    December 4, 2019 @ 5:00 pm

    I was recently startled by an article by a student journalist that referred to "yeah" as being usually sarcastic. I guess I can maybe kind of see that, but OK? I am baffled.

  77. Andreas Johansson said,

    December 6, 2019 @ 10:00 am

    @Leila:

    I have been told that the thumbs up emoji means "up yours" – but I don't think the teller was being serious.

  78. Claire said,

    December 6, 2019 @ 7:47 pm

    As a millennial or GenZ person (not sure which, honestly), this article seems to communicate something I have never seen. That said, I don't communicate with anyone who uses "O.K.", but that doesn't look like a boomer to me as much as someone of my grandparents' generation or someone who writes for the New Yorker.

  79. pamela said,

    December 6, 2019 @ 9:54 pm

    it does occur that in parts of England (and now in London), "all right" has had for a long time almost exactly the connotation we are imputing here to "O.K." it isn't generational now, though at one time it might have been. in some instances "carry on" can have the same sort of deprecating meaning. maybe if you don't have it you have to invent it.

  80. Me said,

    December 9, 2019 @ 3:25 pm

    Or, kk is slang that has little meaning outside of a slice of the current generation, who are passive-aggressively arguing about it in the first place, and "O.K./OK" means what it has for decades (K more recently).

    The great thing about slang is that in twenty years these kids' kids will be using some variant of OK and mocking their parents.

    Also, "OK Boomer" is the lamest meme of the decade.

  81. Me said,

    December 9, 2019 @ 3:41 pm

    As an aside, a quick check of Twitter reveals numerous "OK" GIFs/Meme and precious few "kk" ones. That might lead most impartial observers to conclude this really isn't a thing.

    Personally, if kids want to use "kk" instead of "OK," that's fine by me. It's the silly assumption that certain attitudes some of them have about the latter somehow define it for everyone that I find absurd.

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