The Real McCoy

Mark A. Mandel Mark_Mandel at DRAGONSYS.COM
Wed Dec 27 18:01:18 UTC 2000

Someone on a list I read gave this reference for the phrase "the real
McCoy". I remembered discussing it here recently and checked our archive,
and the origin mentioned here predates the boxer and the inventor, which
our list discussion cites. Unfortunately we see here no detailed
references, only such as "Robert Louis Stevenson in 1883". And, of course,
the term may have been in use before its adoption by the brewer.



The Real McCoy

This term meaning the genuine article derives from a brand of whisky. The
phrase the real MacKay, referring to a brand of whisky of that name,
appears in 1856. It was officially adopted as an advertising slogan by
G.Mackay and Co. of Edinburgh in 1870. In the US, it became McCoy.

The first general (non-whisky) use is by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1883.
Stevenson uses the MacKay spelling.

Many claim that the term derives from Norman "Kid McCoy" Selby (1873-1940),
an American champion boxer who was convicted of murder in 1924. An 1899
issue of the San Francisco Examiner refers to Selby as the Real McCoy, but
as the term was well-established by this time Selby is not the origin.

Alternately, it is often suggested that the term derives from Elijah McCoy
(1843-1929), an inventor of a type of
hydrostatic lubricators in 1872. Although he is earlier than Selby, he is
not early enough to be the origin. But while clearly not the origin of the
term, both Selby and Elijah McCoy may have influenced the change in
spelling from MacKay to McCoy.

-- Mark A. Mandel

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