Memories of Phil Church

I read with sadness in the Spring/Summer 1998 issue of the Bulletin that Professor of English Philip D. Church had died this past June. In many ways, Phil Church's "passionate style of teaching"--as the Bulletin so aptly phrased it--defined why I came to Kenyon. During my campus visit, when in my senior year of high school, I had the chance honor of sitting in on Professor Church's James Joyce seminar. I was absolutely mesmerized. Then and there, I decided that Kenyon was, indeed, the college for me.

When I finally qualified to take one of Phil Church's seminars, D.H. Lawrence was the focus. A whole semester of Phil Church was a dream come true for an aspiring writer and critic.

In the early 1980s, I literally ran into Phil Church, along with Fred Turner, walking up Madison Avenue in New York City, looking very much the "tweedy professors" on the rare sojourn to the big city. They were busy editing (and trying to raise funds for) the Kenyon Review; I was editing health and beauty articles for Vogue magazine. When the conversation turned to whether I still had time to write poetry, and what modern novels I was reading, it was as if I was transported from midtown Manhattan to Philomathesian Hall.

Phil Church may no longer be physically present at Kenyon, but his devotion to the art of writing and reading will live on in anyone lucky enough to have been one of his students.

Shari Miller Sims '77
Rye Brook, New York

The Choctaw origins of O.K.

The article by Arthur M. Cox Jr. '42 in the Spring/Summer 1998 issue of the Bulletin about his great-grandfather's biscuits is an important part of the etymology of O.K., which may be the first word to be used in all languages.

I am enclosing several pages of Jack Weatherford's book Native Roots: How the Indians Enriched America, in which he discusses the origins in the Choctaw language of the word. Weatherford quotes several references indicating the word was used before the Civil War.

I think the Choctaw probably deserve credit for creating the word O.K. People in North America have a tendency to ignore words and ideas that originated with Indian people. Few people know that the U.S. Constitution was modeled after the Iroquois Confederacy.

Robert B. McFarland '50
Boulder, Colorado

The author responds

The Bulletin staff has sent me a copy of Dr. McFarland's note and his reproduction of pages from Jack Weatherford's Native Roots: How the Indians Enriched America.

Weatherford's reference to the Choctaw language origins of "oke" was of interest because it amplified for me a brief reference to that subject that appeared in an extensive article seeking the origins of "O.K." that appeared as the lead item in the New Yorker magazine of September 4, 1989. That article also mentioned Orrin Kendall's initialed army biscuits, but dismissed them as just a "commercial theory," thereby indicating no knowledge of his reasons for so marking them or of the meaning of those initials to many thousands of Union Army soldiers.

My third-grade teacher once insisted that O.K. was derived from the waybill markings--"Oll Korect"--of an undereducated train baggage man for those bags in his care that sustained no damage. But waybills were never marked at all unless a piece of baggage was damaged (I know this from my own railroad experience). And one baggage man's waybill markings (among thousands of such bills daily) hardly constituted a pathway to worldwide use of the term.

There are many similar "Oll Korect" theories, some dating as far back as the time of Andrew Jackson. And even the "Old Kinderhook" theory derived from Martin Van Buren's unsuccessful presidential bid of 1840 offers no real basis of O.K.'s widespread acceptance, nor does it provide any basis for the meaning of O.K. (all right) in its usage throughout this century.

I hope my efforts to shed light on this old mystery will bring it to an end. And I certainly appreciate Dr. McFarland's kind comments as well as his interest in sharing with Kenyon one of the pre-Civil War uses for O.K.

Arthur M. Cox Jr. '42
Lakehurst, New Jersey

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