Real Mackay/Real McCoy

Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Sun Jan 16 14:31:07 UTC 2005

I appeal to the etymological wisdom of this list for input on the
following question:

In 2003 Sam Clements posted this:

> From, I found a poem in the Waukesha(WI) Plaindealer,
> February 7, 1871: page 1(I think), col. 3.  There are five stanzas.
> Rather than print the entire poem, suffice it to say that the final
> line in each stanza was "For he's no the real Sandy Mackay."
> The title of the poem was "THE REAL SANDY MACKAY*" At the conclusion
> of the poem, the starred term was explained thusly:  <<An expression
> used in some parts of Scotland, equivalent to saying, "it's not the
> real thing.">>

Sam's sensational discovery is actually the second earliest known
occurrence of "real Mackay" or similar phrases, the earliest being an
1856 mention of "A drappie [drop] o' the real MacKay" in a Scottish
poem recorded by the Scottish National Dictionary.  The SND states
that in 1870 the Edinburgh distillers, G. Mackay & Co. adopted this as
an advertising slogan, but no documentation of that has ever been

I have tried hard to figure out who "Sandy Mackay" might refer to, and
have come up with something that is probably a total red herring but
that I find intriguing.  Charles Kingsley's 1850 book, Alton Locke,
Tailor and Poet, features a character named Sandy Mackaye, a
bookseller modelled on Thomas Carlyle.  I find nothing in the book
relating to "the real Sandy Mackaye," but I wonder, is it plausible
that this book, a fairly important one in its time, could have been
behind the reference in Sam's 1871 poem?  The timing is possible,
although "used in some parts of Scotland" suggests more of an older
folk origin and my theory would require the term migrating in six
years from a literary reference to an alcoholic one.

A final point to ponder, probably of no significance except a
remarkable coincidence, is that Jonathon Green's 1901 citation for the
form "real McCoy," the earliest ever discovered for that form, is from
The Boy's Own Paper, described by Jonathon as embodying the philosophy
of "muscular Christianity."  The father of the "muscular Christianity"
movement was Charles Kingsley.

Does anyone find any plausibility in the Alton Locke connection?  Was
Thomas Carlyle the real Mackay?

Fred Shapiro

More information about the Ads-l mailing list