Sunday, February 28, 2010

"Where did OK come from?" Voice of America.




Now, the VOA Special English program WORDS AND THEIR STORIES.

Millions of people all over the world use the word OK. In fact, some people say the word is used more often than any other word in the world. OK means all right or acceptable. It expresses agreement or approval. You might ask your brother, "Is it okay if I borrow your car?” Or if someone asks you to do something, you might say, “Okay, I will.” Still, language experts do not agree about where the word came from.

Some people say it came from the Native American Indian tribe known as the Choctaw. The Choctaw word okeh means the same as the American word okay. Experts say early explorers in the American West spoke the Choctaw language in the nineteenth century. The language spread across the country.

But many people dispute this. Language expert Allen Walker Read wrote about the word OK in reports published in the nineteen sixties. He said the word began being used in the eighteen thirties. It was a short way of writing a different spelling of the words “all correct.” Some foreign-born people wrote “all correct” as “o-l-l k-o-r-r-e-c-t,” and used the letters O.K. Other people say a railroad worker named Obadiah Kelly invented the word long ago. They said he put the first letters of his names -- O and K -- on each object people gave him to send on the train.

Still others say a political organization invented the word. The organization supported Martin Van Buren for president in eighteen forty. They called their group, the O.K. Club. The letters were taken from the name of the town where Martin Van Buren was born — Old Kinderhook, New York.

Not everyone agrees with this explanation, either. But experts do agree that the word is purely American. And it has spread to almost every country on Earth.

Then there is the expression A-OK. This means everything is fine. A-OK is a space-age expression. It was used in nineteen sixty-one during the flight of astronaut Alan Shepard. He was the first American to be launched into space. His flight ended when his spacecraft landed in the ocean, as planned. Shepard reported: "Everything is A-OK.”

However, some experts say the expression did not begin with the space age. One story says it was first used during the early days of the telephone to tell an operator that a message had been received.

There are also funny ways to say okay. Some people say okey-dokey or okey-doke. These expressions were first used in the nineteen thirties. Today, a character on the American television series, “The Simpsons,” says it another way. He says okely-dokely.

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This program was written by Shelley Gollust. I'm Faith Lapidus. You can find more WORDS AND THEIR STORIES at our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com.

Check Out "OK" in Wikipedia.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Words and Their Stories, "The Fall Guy," from Voice of America.





Now, the VOA Special English program WORDS AND THEIR STORIES.

Every week at this time, the Voice of America tells about popular words and expressions used in the United States. Some expressions have made a jump from sports events to everyday life. One such expression is fall guy. A fall guy is the person who someone decides will be the loser or victim.

The first fall guys were men who wrestled for money. At the end of the nineteenth century, wrestling was a very popular sport in the United States. Wrestling competitions were held not only in big cities, but also at country fairs and traveling shows. As the sport became more popular, it became less and less of a sport. Many of the matches were fixed. The wrestlers knew -- before the match -- which one of them would be the winner.

The goal in wrestling is to hold your opponent's shoulders down against the floor. This is called a fall. Sometimes, one of the wrestlers would be paid before the match to take the fall. He would agree to be the loser...the fall guy.

Today, a fall guy is anyone who is tricked into taking the blame for the crime or wrongdoing of someone else. There are fall guys in many situations -- people who publicly take the blame when something goes wrong.

A fall guy takes the rap for something wrong or illegal. He accepts responsibility and punishment for what someone else did. The fall guy may have been involved in the situation, but was not the person who should be blamed.

The word rap has meant blame for several hundred years. The expression to take the rap first was used about one hundred years ago.

Another similar expression is bum rap. A person receives a bum rap if he is found guilty of a crime...but is really innocent.

Sometimes, a fall guy may not realize he is the fall guy until he is the victim of a bum rap. In that case, he may feel that he has been framed. To frame someone is to create false evidence to make an innocent person seem guilty.

Some word experts say the expression to frame someone comes from the way wood must be fitted closely around a painting or photograph to frame it. In the same way, evidence must be designed perfectly if it is to frame an innocent person to make him or her seem guilty.

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This VOA Special English program WORDS AND THEIR STORIES was written by Marilyn Rice Christiano. This is Warren Scheer.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Words and Their Stories: Farm Expressions; English expressions related to agriculture.




Now, the VOA Special English program WORDS AND THEIR STORIES.

In the early days of human history, people survived by hunting wild animals, or gathering wild grains and plants for food. Then, some people learned to grow crops and raise animals for food. They were the first farmers.

Since the sixteenth century, the word farm has meant agricultural land. But a much older meaning of the word farm is linked to economics. The word farm comes from the Latin word, firma, which means an unchanging payment.

Experts say the earliest meaning of the English word farm was a yearly payment made as a tax or rent.

Farmers in early England did not own their land. They paid every year to use agricultural lands.

In England, farmers used hawthorn trees along the edges of property. They called this row of hawthorns a hedge.

Hedging fields was how careful farmers marked and protected them.

Soon, people began to use the word hedging to describe steps that could be taken to protect against financial loss.

Hedging is common among gamblers who make large bets. A gambler bets a lot of money on one team. But, to be on the safe side, he also places a smaller bet on the other team, to reduce a possible loss.

You might say that someone is hedging his bet when he invests in several different kinds of businesses. One business may fail, but likely not all.

Farmers know that it is necessary to make hay while the sun shines.

Hay has to be cut and gathered when it is dry. So a wise farmer never postpones gathering his hay when the sun is shining. Rain may soon appear.

A wise person copies the farmer. He works when conditions are right.

A new mother, for example, quickly learns to try to sleep when her baby is quiet, even in the middle of the day. If the mother delays, she may lose her chance to sleep. So, the mother learns to make hay while the sun shines.

Beans are a popular farm crop. But beans are used to describe something of very little value in the expression, not worth a hill of beans. The expression is often used today.

You could say, for example, that a bad idea is not worth a hill of beans.

Language expert Charles Earle Funk said the expression was first used almost seven hundred years ago. He said Robert of Gloucester described a message from the King of Germany to King John of England as altogether not worth a bean.

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This VOA Special English program, WORDS AND THEIR STORIES, was written by Marilyn Rice Christiano. Maurice Joyce was the narrator. I'm Shirley Griffith.