Jewish World Review May 9, 2002 /26 Iyar, 5762

Richard Lederer

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Consumer Reports

What's in a president's name? | In the 1830s in New England, there was a craze for initialisms, in the manner of the currently popular T.G.I.F. and P.D.Q.

The fad went so far as to generate letter combinations of intentional misspellings: K.G. for "know go" and O.W. for "oll wright." O.K. for "oll korrect" naturally followed.

Of all the loopy initialisms and misspellings of the time, O.K. alone survived.

That's because of a presidential nickname that consolidated the letters in the national memory.

Martin Van Buren, elected our eighth president in 1836, was born in Kinderhook, N.Y., and, early in his political career, was dubbed "Old Kinderhook."

Echoing the "Oll Korrect" initialism, O.K. became the rallying cry of the Old Kinderhook Club, a political organization supporting Van Buren during the 1840 campaign.

The coinage did Van Buren no good, and he was defeated in his bid for re-election.

But the word honoring his name today remains what H. L. Mencken identified as "the most shining and successful Americanism ever invented."

Match the presidential nicknames in the left-hand column with the presidents in the second column:

1. The Great Emancipator

a. James Buchanan

2. Old Hickory

b. Calvin Coolidge

3. The Father of His Country

c. Dwight David Eisenhower

4. The Sage of Monticello

d. Ulysses S. Grant

5. Ike

e. William Henry Harrison

6. Tricky Dick

f. Andrew Jackson

7. Silent Cal

g. Thomas Jefferson

8. Tippecanoe

h. Abraham Lincoln

9. Unconditional Surrender

i. Richard M. Nixon

10. Old Rough and Ready

j. Ronald Reagan

11. The Gipper

k. Franklin D. Roosevelt

12. The New Dealer

l. Teddy Roosevelt

13. The Schoolmaster

m. William Howard Taft

14. The Rough Rider

n. Zachary Taylor

15. Big Bill

o. Harry S. Truman

16. The Bachelor President

p. George Washington

17. The Haberdasher

q. Woodrow Wilson

Answers to presidential nicknames:
1-h, 2-f, 3-p, 4-g, 5-c, 6-i, 7-b, 8-e, 9-d, 10-n, 11-j, 12-k, 13-q, 14-1, 15-m, 16-a, 17-o

JWR contributor Richard Lederer is a language maven. More than a million of his books, which have been Book-of-the-Month Club and Literary Guild alternate selections, are in print. He is the host of "A Way With Words," on KPBS, San Diego Public Radio, and a regular guest on weekend "All Things Considered." He was awarded the Golden Gavel for 2002 by Toastmasters International. Comment by clicking here.


05/03/02: Slang as it is slung
04/25/02: Abstemious words
04/19/02: This Riddle Isn't Letter-Perfect

© 2002, Richard Lederer