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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?

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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!'').

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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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