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I've heard a few people (all native English speakers) recently use "otay" in place of "okay", both in writing and when speaking. Where does that word come from? For that matter, is it a word at all?

I'm guessing it means the same thing as "okay", but are there any nuances in its usages that I'm missing?

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I deleted my comments. It does seem to be 'catchphrase' usage from children's tv. I still think it's basically 'childish speech' but something has to popularise it, I guess. –  FumbleFingers Jun 24 '11 at 4:20
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Fun fact: [k] and [t] are allophones in Hawaiian. Additional fun fact: the previous fun fact has nothing to do with this question. –  Jon Purdy Jun 24 '11 at 5:04

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

When I use it, I'm deliberately emulating baby talk. It doesn't really mean anything different than "okay" (pronounced properly); it's just a way to be, I dunno, cutesy.

I didn't know about the Little Rascals/Buckwheat connection, possibly because I grew up without a TV. I'm sure Buckwheat contributed to at least some of the popularity of "otay", and possibly I absorbed it from someone who (unbeknownst to me) was imitating the TV show, but it's also possible that this is something that each generation/school/user invents anew.

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This one's good enough for me. It sounds 'reinventable' on demand once you take on board the baby-talk aspect, so like you I attach little importance to kids' programs that may help to promote the usage (in reality they probably simply reflect it, for most purposes). –  FumbleFingers Jun 24 '11 at 4:45
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I'm 99.9% sure that you absorbed it from someone imitating the TV show ;) –  Callithumpian Jun 25 '11 at 0:12

"Otay" comes from The Little Rascals (a.k.a. "Our Gang"), a 1920's comedy series featuring a variety of child actors, in particular one called Buckwheat, who had a bit of a lisp or perhaps a minor speaking impediment at the time. This character was later caricatured by Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live, who made a big production out of the practically unintelligible "Buckwheat dialect", including "Oh-Tay!" specifically as a catchphrase.

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Can't agree, for same reasons given against @Callithumpian offering in the same vein. These relate to childish usage, they're not neologisms. –  FumbleFingers Jun 24 '11 at 3:51
    
+1: Murphy's Buckwheat character is the more probable source of the current (and recent) vogue usage. The Buckwheat Tangs ("Buckwheat Sings") album ad bit was probably longer than the original Buckwheat's entire cumulative screen time over the course of the series, and I don't remember going a whole day without hearing at least one "O-tay!" for a couple of years there. –  bye Jun 24 '11 at 3:52
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+1 for Eddie Murphy's role. (Corrected his last name in your answer). –  Callithumpian Jun 24 '11 at 4:30

I believe it comes from the character of Buckwheat in the old TV show The Little Rascals.

otay image

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I'd be very surprised if that were the actual origin. Probably just a reflection of the fact that a child (perhaps by implication a not-particularly-well-spoken one) may well make this mispronunciation. –  FumbleFingers Jun 24 '11 at 3:48
    
@Fumble: For what it's worth, this is the #1 definition at Urban Dictionary as well. –  Callithumpian Jun 24 '11 at 4:04
    
Well, yes. But it's simply because Buckwheat is a little kiddie who talks childishly 'cute' and inaccurately. I doubt Otay was really a 'neologism' in any of these usages - most of us have heard little kids get these plosives wrong in the early stages of talking. –  FumbleFingers Jun 24 '11 at 4:13

It absolutely originated from Buckwheat and his lisp. My entire generation grew up imitating it. I asked my 22 year old and her generation uses it from Eddie Murphy's reincarnation of Buckwheat in a movie, on record, and a reoccurring role of the character on Saturday Night Live. Then moving ahead to my 11-year-old son's generation, he sees it on Facebook, also in depictions of Buckwheat and he and his friends use it in imitating the Little Rascals.

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