[Ads-l] Early Use of The Real Mackay

Thu Jun 9 02:22:20 UTC 2016

I have now obtained a copy of the key pages of The Deil's Hallowe'en, which until Garson's discovery was considered the earliest example of "real McKay."  (Actually, we can't tell which example was earlier, since The Deil's Hallowe'en is just dated "1856," but it seems likely that a poem about Hallowe'en was published later in the year than June 10.)  I am happy to share these pages with anyone who would like a copy.

The cover provides the following information:  "The Deil's Hallowe'en:  A Poem.  By Young Glasgow.  Glasgow: Published by George Logan, 47 Adelphi Street.  1856.  Price Sixpence."  This is in all caps, except for the price.  Someone has written a name at the top, probably the author's real name, but I can't decipher the handwriting, although the first name may be Lamar.

The relevant passage is on page 25.  There is an open quotation mark at the beginning, but the corresponding unquote is after the end of the page:

""Sae welcome, devils, great and sma',
A merry nicht o't to ye a'!
Lift up your meazled heads ance mair,
And let us sing 'Begone, dull care!'
Beneath my twa reel-yeukin' cluits
There's what 'ill sharpen a' your wits,--
A drappie o' the real M'Kay,
Ye'll find it, devils, when you try.
I red ye, lads, by horn and hoof!
It's jist a hunder (23) over-proof.
I wadna gi'e a catholic damn
For an adulterated dram;
But that, my joes, ye needna fear,
There's no a drap o' water here."  

The "(23)" refers to an author's endnote, as follows:

"23.--"_A hunder over-proof._"
Proof whisky is half spirit and half water.  If a portion of it be lighted, and _half_ of it burns away, the liquor is _proof;_ and it is proportionally over or under proof as less or more than the half burns off.  A hundred over-poof [sic] would therefore be _cent. per cent._, or pure spirit."

Note that, while "real M'Kay" here clearly means whisky, there is no reason to associate it with any particular brand or distiller.  Accordingly, the OED is misleading at best when it says, "In quot. 1856, a tagline used by G. McKay and Co., distillers of whisky."  Note also that, while the OED represents the line as "A drappie o' the real McKay," the original uses the spelling "M'Kay."  

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of ADSGarson O'Toole
Sent: Monday, May 30, 2016 5:11 PM
Subject: Re: Early Use of The Real Mackay

Here is a citation that seems to be pertinent from a Scottish newspaper dated June 10, 1856. The term "real M'Kay" was printed with surrounding quotation marks which suggested that it was already in use. The article was about a beggar named M'Kay who died with a surprisingly large amount of money in the bank (700 pounds). Several claimants emerged who wished to obtain the money. Finally, a man named William M'Kay offered convincing evidence that he was the son of the deceased. The article referred to him as the "real M'Kay".

Date: June 10, 1856
Newspaper: Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser Newspaper Location: Angus, Scotland
Article: The Beggar M'Kay
Quote Page 3, Column 2
Database: British Newspaper Archive

[Begin excerpt]

Some people make more noise when dead than alive, and so it has been with the poor beggar M'Kay. As a beggar he was unknown, and had no friends; but when he died, leaving a large amount of money, friends sprung up in all directions, and the man who was despised in life was courted in the grave. But of course £700 could not be left by a beggar, without a law-suit to divide it; and the Dundee writers, for the last twelve months, have been entertained and amused with the M'Kay succession, somewhat in the same way as the Edinburgh lawyers have been entertained and amused with the Morgan succession. . . .

[Skip text]

. . . The proof produced by William were the letters which he had sent to his father from Australia, and the letters which he had received in return. From these letters it was perfectly apparent that he was the only surviving child of his father; and Margaret, who had so warmly wept over her father's grave, was obliged at last to yield the day in favour of William, the "real M'Kay," who has now been decerned sole executor to his father by the Sheriff.
[End excerpt]

The story appeared in other newspapers in England and Scotland and included the reference to the "real M'Kay".

Back in 2010 Stephen Goranson posted some citations from 1846 in the legislative domain that mentioned "the real McKay bill of 1844".


On Mon, May 30, 2016 at 3:21 PM, Baker, John <JBAKER at stradley.com> wrote:
> In the OED, the earliest citation for "real McCoy" is "A drappie o' the real McKay" in a poem from 1856, which the OED puts in brackets.  The OED's etymology discussion says:  "Originally in form the real Mackay , and in the earliest recorded uses (quots. 1865  and 1880 at sense A. 1) echoing use in a tagline of G. McKay and Co. of Edinburgh, distillers of whisky (see quot. 1856 at sense A. 1). This may show the origin of all later use. However, the tagline is likely to reflect an existing phrase, which may have arisen by confusion for the place name Reay in the name of the Reay branch of the Mackay family."
> Here is a non-whisky example from 1861, antedating all existing examples other than the 1856 poem.  This is from The Journal of Horticulture, Cottage Gardener, and Country Gentleman, dated Nov. 19, 1861, https://books.google.com.au/books?id=UK6JT2d8W_AC&pg=PA159&dq=%22real+mackay%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjCgpuvuYLNAhWClx4KHTNCBoI4ChDoAQg8MAY#v=onepage&q=%22real%20mackay's%22.  It is from a correspondent who signs himself or herself as "A Renfrewshire Bee-Keeper" (Renfrewshire being a place in lowland Scotland) and is an account of receiving a hybridized queen and worker bees:  "I then replaced the lid with only one regret, that it was not a party of the "real Mackay's" that had so safely reached me."
> This early use supports, though it does not confirm, the OED's speculation that the G. McKay and Co. tagline reflected a pre-existing phrase.  Support for this view is also shown by a question and answer in the book 1,000 Answers to 1,000 Questions Being a Reprint of the First 1,000 Questions in Tit-Bits Inquiry Column, with the Replies Thereto (1884), https://books.google.com/books?id=vPgIAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA222&dq=%22real+mackay%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiB-aOJtoLNAhWKuB4KHR3vC344ChDoAQgzMAU#v=onepage&q=%22real%20mackay%22.  I assume that Tit-Bits was some sort of newspaper question and answer column; this Q&A, therefore, likely would have been earlier than 1884, although internal evidence elsewhere in the book suggests not much earlier.
> "673.--What is the origin of the Scotch saying, "It's no the real Mackay"?
> "It's no the real Mackay," means it is not genuine.  The ancient family or clan of Mackay was so famous for its integrity, honesty, and uprightness that its name passed into a proverb, and anything not fundamentally correct, or with the least suspicion of not being absolutely genuine, was said not to be the real Mackay (Mackai)."
> John Baker
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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