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I was interested in the usage of “O.K” and “All right” in the following conversation of a man ordering food delivery to a wrong number and a man who unfortunately received the wrong number call in the fiction titled “The Lost Order” appearing in New Yorker Jan. 7th issue:

“Not the lemon chicken. “I don’t want the lemon. What I want –“

“O.K. I knew.”

“Last time, you delivered the wrong thing –"

“Lemon chicken -" “Garlic chicken –"

“O.K. –"

“Don’t just say ‘O.K.” and then bring me the wrong order. O.K., O.K., O.K. Don’t just say ‘O.K.’

He starts dictating his address. I have no pencil in hand.
“O.K.,” I say “I mean: all right.”

I’ve lost track of whether it was the lemon chicken or the garlic he wanted.

I was under impression that “O.K” is an exact alternative of “All right.” I checked OALD for confirmation, and it defines “O.K” as (1) Yes, all right. (2) used to attract sb’s attention or introduce a comment. (3) used to check that somebody agrees with or understand you.

However, the above conversation looks as though “O.K.” is less ‘serious’ or affirmative than “All right,” because the receiver of the wrong call rephrases “O.K.” with “All right’’ for clarification.

Are there a meaningful difference of nuance or degree of affirmation between “O.K.” and “All right”?

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closed as not constructive by FumbleFingers, tchrist, Mahnax, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者, MετάEd Jan 7 '13 at 2:22

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It's Not Constructive - any "ranking" here is entirely subjective, so there's no meaningfully "correct" answer. –  FumbleFingers Jan 7 '13 at 0:19
Is there a meaningful difference of nuance or degree of affirmation between “O.K.” and “All right”? I would say not. Both of them connote agreement, or "satisfactory but not exceptional condition." I'd consider them relatively equal on a spectrum of such adjectives: less then "very good," but better than "mediocre." –  J.R. Jan 7 '13 at 1:15
Fumble finger. I’m not asking ranking. I’m asking Yes or No (difference) - and many answers suggest No. As I wrote, it was my understanding that ‘O.K.’ is exactly same with “All right” in the meaning. But I was caught up with the question, why the call receiver should rephrase “I mean all right.” It’s like saying “Yes, I mean Yes,” instead of saying “Yes, I mean your understanding is perfect.” –  Yoichi Oishi Jan 7 '13 at 1:42
@YoichiOishi It's like: "Stop speaking French." "Oui, monsieur -- I mean yes, sir." The call receiver rephrased because he was asked to avoid "O.K.". But he was not asked to avoid "all right", so he used it. –  MετάEd Jan 7 '13 at 2:22
@MetaEd."Oui, monsieur -- I mean yes, sir." It's the best analogy ever I could easily get it. We say "Gomennasai, ie, sumimasen" in Japanese, - Sorry, I mean Pardon me. –  Yoichi Oishi Jan 8 '13 at 1:34

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Since this quotation is from a work of fiction, it's necessary to consider what the speaker had in mind — I think in this case he was simply searching for a way to say "OK" without saying "OK" since he had just been instructed not to say that.

My opinion is that OK and all right mean basically the same thing and are pretty much interchangeable other than giving slight preference for "OK" if you're doing a checklist and all right perhaps being slightly more formal.

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OK is a colloquial, abbreviated spelling of all correct. It belongs to informal or spoken language, but not in formal or written.

All correct itself is obsolete, OK is not.

All right is equal in a way.

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You have answered as though the words stood in isolation. They need to be considered in the context of the extended dialogue provided. –  Fortiter Jan 7 '13 at 1:37

When the guy on the phone says "Don’t just say 'O.K.' and then bring me the wrong order. O.K., O.K., O.K. Don’t just say 'O.K.'", he's saying that he wants to hear something like "I'm sorry that I brought you the wrong order last time. It won't happen this time. I'll be sure to bring the right order this time." The exchange has nothing to do with the difference between "OK" and "all right" but about pro forma acknowledgment of a mistake (OK) and actual acknowledgment (I'm sorry etc.).

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