The great Americanism

``OK,'' I am glad to report, is quite happy and well and living in Scotland. It would be difficult, of course, to name any nation on earth where ``OK'' isn't hunky-dory, shipshape, and thoroughly, flourishingly dinky.

OK has become indelible in everyday communication. Who says, ``right ho'' or ``right on'' or even ``all systems go'' anymore? OK is king. How could we possibly do without it?

OK is one of those adaptable, chameleon words that change color with the way they're said. An early-morning, just-after-the-alarm-clock conversation can rely on it alone.

For example:

She: ``OK?'' (cheerily).

He: ``O-kay'' (doubtful, with slow emphasis on last syllable).

She: ``OKAY!'' (determined - meaning ``Better get up, then!'').

Pause. (That's OK, too).

She (staggering toward breakfast): ''O-K-A-Y!!'' (commanding, not to say threatening - signifying: ``Look, I'm up, so you should be up too. Come on!'').

He (burrowing farther under duvet): ``O-O-O-kay'' (indicating philosophical compliance but bodily unwillingness).

Long pause. Almost a reprieve.

Then - she (now post-breakfast, marching loudly into bedroom): ``OKAY, OKAY, OKAY!!'' (The ultimatum. It means: ``Get up! The world is rolling! Everyone else has gone to work! It's almost noon! The bed has to be made!'')

He (very faint and utterly resigned): ``ok.''

As a foreigner living in Scotland, I've learned that everything good, whatever the rest of the world thinks, was actually invented here. There is even a charming notion that OK (an Americanism if ever there was one) comes from the Scottishism ``Och aye.''

Scotsmen, as everyone knows, continually say, ``Och aye.'' Only the truth is, they don't. Not anymore. What they say is ``OK.'' They use it in all its meanings. But as a sign-off, or even a put-off, they employ it, I believe, with unique emphasis.

You phone a bookshop to ask for a classic. The General Books Department is very helpful. After 10 minutes' rummage among the computers and catalogs, the clerk observes: ``I'm afraid that `Withering Hikes' - do I have the title right? - seems to be no longer in print. We could, I suppose, try to contact the publishers, though it will take several months to locate the address. We might then communicate with you, after a suitably lengthy delay, by post card - second-class postage, if you wouldn't mind just sending us the stamp first - and naturally the book itself will be beyond all reasonable cost. Oh, and we must have a gigantic deposit in advance....'' At this point the speaker, convinced you couldn't possibly want the book anymore, takes a deep breath and adds triumphantly, ``OK?''

I've been trying to think of the appropriate reply to this maddening Scottish sign-off. At last, with the help of The Concise Scots Dictionary, I believe I have discovered just the thing: ``Hoots-toots!'' It means whatever you want it to mean. I wonder if it'll catch on.

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