Richard H. Hopper’s revelation that the expression “O.K.” was popularized during the 1840 presidential campaign of Martin Van Buren, to signify his nickname “Old Kinderhook,” calls to mind another American expression traceable to the same campaign. Van Buren’s opponent, William Henry Harrison (“Old Tippecanoe”), distributed thousands of whiskey bottles in the shape of a log cabin. The name of the manufacturer was prominently stamped on the bottom: E. C. Booz Distillery of Philadelphia. Although the word “booze” has been traced back to Middle English bousen (“to carouse”), it became a synonym for cheap liquor as a result of the campaign of 1840. Apparently booze proved to be a more popular political symbol than “O.K.”—Harrison was elected.
While Mr. Hopper’s etymology was flawless, his Morse Code could stand some improvement. “O.K.” would be “dash-dash-dash dash-dot-dash” in Morse Code. The “dot-dot dash-dotdash” that Mr. Hopper suggests would be “IK,” who didn’t arrive on the political scene until a century later.
Gerald Uelmen is correct that dot-dot is, and always has been, the Morse Code symbol for I. However, in the American Morse Code, now largely superseded by the International Code, dot-space-dot was the symbol for O. This space led to misreadings, and the letter was changed to the dash-dash-dash we now ordinarily used.