In case you've missed it, "okay" has recently received a long overdue makeover. The simple word has been transformed from a basic staccato confirmation into a sparkling vibration that rolls playfully around the tongue, a trilling affirmation that's as contagious as it is hard to say: "Okurr!"
Okurr — alternately spelled with up to four r's and sometimes with a t for emphasis at the end — first reached mainstream audiences thanks to Khloé Kardashian on Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Soon, the rest of her family, including matriarch Kris Jenner, were using the word as an alternate way to say "Okay, girl, I see you!" But the word has reached peak popularity since last autumn thanks to rapper Cardi B, who's also a fan of punctuating her statements with that okay paired with a rolling r.
Fresh off the release of her new album Invasion of Privacy and her pregnancy reveal on Saturday Night Live, Cardi co-hosted The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on April 10. The rapper explained her favourite catchphrases to Jimmy Fallon, and after running through several others she uses frequently — like "aeeeeow" — she explained the proper uses of okurr: "It depends on the situation that you're in. If somebody checks somebody, it's like...okurr! I didn't know she had all of that in her, okurr! It's like okaaaaay, but okay is played out. We've done that already!"
(By the way, if you're self-conscious about achieving the proper pronunciation, Cardi describes it as a noise made by a "cold pigeon in New York City.")
Some Kardashian fans have been confused about why Cardi has yet to credit Kardashian for coining her new favourite term. But it turns out Koko just popularised the phrase, but didn't make it up. Okurr, in fact, actually derives from the same place where many catchphrases come from: Drag culture. RuPaul's Drag Race contestant Laganja Estranja most often gets the credit for first using the word on the show, though other personalities like Willam, Alaska Thunderfuck, and Alyssa Edwards are all fans of okuur, too.
The colloquialism has even received an entry on Urban Dictionary, with the explanation that it "Originated from drag culture and [was] popularised by RuPaul's Drag Race, and then by Keeping Up With the Kardashians." So while we can indeed credit Kardashian for first bringing her favourite phrase to the mainstream, drag slang deserves the true credit — yet another reminder that many things that are deemed "cool" in popular culture often have roots in marginalised communities.
But the gag is (yup, yet another phrase that originated in drag culture) that the okurr timeline doesn't even begin with drag slang. As this Reddit thread points out, the actual origin of okurr as we know it is a bit problematic. Back in 2010, Broadway actress Laura Bell Bundy (you might recognise her as the original Amber from Hairspray on Broadway) created a comedy web series with various fictional characters, including Shocantelle Brown, a hair stylist who appeared in a weave advertisement skit. "My name is Shocantelle Brown, and I sho' can tell you need to come to I be-weave, because you need to take care of yo' hair, okurr!?"
Now, in the sketch, Bundy is not technically wearing blackface, but her nose is enlarged and she's both appropriating and making fun of Black salon culture...so, as previously stated, the video is problematic as hell, even if it was intended to be funny. Still, it seems that the clip of Bundy-as-Shoncantelle turning "okay" into "okurr" is the first video evidence we have of okurr appearing in the modern vernacular, a funny word that was likely picked up and reused in jest and now, eight years later, is a part of our pop-culture vocabulary.
This investigation is not closed yet, however. Just like many other "trends" that make their way from small communities to the mainstream, it's impossible to truly nail down the origin of this vibrato twist on okay. It's very likely that someone else first uttered "okurr" long before Bundy did it as Shocantelle. So if you have any information about the true beginnings of okurr, please let us know. But for now, we can definitively say that neither Cardi nor Koko can take credit. Though we can thank them for putting on those of us who weren't familiar. Okurr!? (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
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