Sunday, December 28, 2014

When OK isn't okay

Back when dinosaurs roamed the planet, I worked as a graphic designer and shared a room in a graphics studio with Nancy Massa for about twenty years. Nancy’s nickname was Half-Point, because she would send copy back to the typesetters and ask them to reduce the spacing by a half point—that’s like a hair’s difference. She's a meticulous designer. 

So, of course, Nancy was the person I wanted to help me when I was working on my book's cover. We spent hours together nudging the elements (title, post-it notes, chalk, chalk crumbs, bullet, etc.) into position.

I remember how Nancy used to squint at paragraphs of type. It should look consistently gray—never blobby or bumpy with some letters looking thinner or thicker than the rest. The way black type colors up on a white page matters.

A couple weeks ago, my novel came back from the copyeditor. She fixed my misuse of commas, found misplaced words, removed the extra “L” that I consistently added to the word cancelled, oops, I mean canceled. One L is common in American English, while two L’s is common in Britain, Canada, and Australia. She broke up my run-on sentences. She corrected my tenses, “been there, done that,” “is there, doin’ that,” “will be there, and do that.” I’m getting tense just thinking about it.

She also changed “okay” to “OK”. 

I went through the manuscript and made the corrections she suggested, but the “OK’s” haunted me. “OK” seemed too loud, the capital letters almost acted like bold type. OK jumped out of the paragraph and yelled at me. Whereas, “okay” with it’s lowercase letters, was quiet, more passive and colored up better on the page. It merged with the other words and didn't draw special attention to itself.

The word “okay” is easy, calm, not excited. Well, unless you’re in a pissed-off mood, and someone’s bugging you to do something that you don’t want to, and you have to yell, “Okay, already!”

In many publications, okay is not OK. Only a third of publications use “okay.”
  • The Wall Street Journal and The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition uses OK.
  • The New York Times uses O.K.
  • Reuters uses okay.

Well, too bad. I don’t like the way "OK" colors up on the page. Nancy would agree. "OK" is just too loud. So I went back through the manuscript and typed “ok” into the search box in Microsoft Word. I changed all the "OK’s" back to "okay" (consistency is important).

There are creative liberties to consider here. In her wonderful novel, The Orchardist, Amanda Coplin wrote the dialog without quote marks. It added a sense of quiet to the pages.

My novel has people who talk with quote marks around their words, maybe not as creative as Coplin, but that's okay. 


  1. Even though I knew the "punch line", this was just fun to read. Dinosaurs, Half-point, and getting word ideas. And I really like the okay OK O.K. Okay graphic, okay?


Please feel free to comment.