It's Not OK
by Cherie Tucker
talked about this one before, but it was early in the life of this
magazine, so you may not have seen it, or you may be one of the
willful who thought that since the language is always changing, you
didn’t need to believe me. Let me repeat: all right is two
words. Just like all wrong.
I bring this to you again because I’ve been reading a bestseller
that is set in the early 60s. The author has a smash hit and weaves
a terrific tale. But on nearly every page is the word alright.
And every time it see it, I’m yanked out of the story. I am a
voracious reader and love to be transported to times and places by
deftly chosen prose. Authors usually do meticulous research to
avoid spell-breaking anachronisms, but they may not be as aware that
such anachronisms exist in our language. I don’t want King Arthur
to say “OK.” It is because the language is always changing that
writers—especially those who write of non-contemporary periods—must
know what the language changed from. And when.
In the 60s the nuns still wore habits and wielded rulers to knock
repentance out of recalcitrant students. All right misspelled
as one word was a felony then, even in public schools. Papers came
back with large red circles with the scrawled Sp on them. It
is only recently that some writers have combined the two words into
one, but they have not done so in scholarly or well-edited
There is a use for alright. If you wish to use it as a device
to illustrate something about your character’s background, have that
character write a note using alright. Your readers will
automatically conclude that this character is not very well educated
or is very young. Readers will not come to that conclusion about a
character, however, if the rest of the work misspells all right,
but they might make that judgment about the author.
Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to
professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.
She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the
University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits